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Starship Is Nearly Ready To Try And Launch Again
Emphasis on the nearly, though.
Elon Musk’s pride and joy is the 394-foot-tall SpaceX Starship rocket. This behemoth promises to open up the stars to humanity and even help us reach Mars. But, its first attempt at an orbital launch on national marijuana day this year didn’t go to plan. In fact, it was such a s**t show that the FAA has revoked Starship’s launch licence, and the FAA and SpaceX are being sued over environmental damage caused during the launch. These setbacks could have held Starship and the NASA projects that will use it back by many, many months, possibly even years. But, it seems the FAA is ready to let SpaceX have one more go at getting this gargantuan rocket into the heavens.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Why was Starship grounded?
I have covered this before, so go here for a more in-depth analysis. But basically, the orbital launch attempt on the 20th of April 2023, had two major incidents. Firstly, the rocket failed to separate from its first stage, meaning it couldn’t reach space. The FAA expects a rocket to self-detonate if such an incident occurs, stopping it from exploding on impact like a giant bomb. So, SpaceX sent the self-detonate signal to Starship; however, it took longer than expected for the rocket to detonate. The FAA sees this as a possible safety risk. The launchpad was also not finished and was obliterated during the launch. This caused concrete dust and soil particles to fall for miles around, threatening the federally protected wildlife reserve around the launch site, which has sparked a massive lawsuit between charities responsible for this land, the FAA and SpaceX.
So, the FAA revoked Starship’s launch licence, investigated why these things happened, and then gave SpaceX an extensive list of improvements it needed to do before it could get the launch licence back.
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This is a major problem as Starship has some massive commercial contracts to fill next year, such as a satellite launch and NASA Artemis contracts. If Starship can’t launch soon and prove its safety, these must be massively delayed. While this isn’t a big problem for the satellite contract, it is for NASA, as they are in a space race with China to get to the Moon.
Musk has been promising a re-attempt is imminent for months now, despite not having a launch licence. He Tweeted (or Xed?) at the beginning of this month that the rocket was ready for launch! It is so hard to tell if he is actually telling the truth, so most of the space-related media just ignored his promises, expecting Starship to get the go-ahead sometime at the end of the year.
Well, we are nearing the end of the year (where the hell did the time go?), and it seems Musk is on the cusp of getting that coveted launch licence back. The head of the FAA’s commercial space division told the Independent that the investigation had been concluded and that the licence would be granted “somewhere in mid to late October.” However, he also pointed out that SpaceX still needs to make more changes before this can happen. So it appears Musk was lying when he said the rocket was ready.
So it seems Starship might finally get back on track, and we will get to see the spectacle of its launch again before Christmas.
But the whole saga of Starship losing its launch licence has nailed home some of Musk’s flaws. He is happy to bend morals to suit his situation, take massive shortcuts for stupid reasons, and flat-out lie like a 7-year-old kid trying to impress his mates.
I mean, there was no reason for the launch to take place on 4/20. The media didn’t care about it, so it gained SpaceX no discernible extra coverage. But Musk didn’t wait until the launch pad was ready; instead, he launched it on his favourite meme-riddled day and setback the whole project by months. Why take such a risky and detrimental shortcut?
Musk claimed that Starship will be ready to launch in just over a month, 3 weeks after the failed attempt. If that was true, the 2nd orbital launch attempt would have happened a month ago. Instead, it looks like we might not see a launch attempt until November, as it takes time to get the rocket ready once the licence is given.
But by far, the most annoying thing about Starship is it’s twisted morals. Starship is one of the few methane-oxygen rockets. This means it would be straightforward to fuel it with carbon-neutral biomethane and dramatically reduce its emissions, or even run the rocket at net-zero. This would make a huge difference, as Musk wants to build a Starship fleet large enough to do around 1,000 launches per year. As each launch produces 3,477 tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the average annual emissions of 240 US citizens, a fully operational Starship fleet would have the same carbon footprint as a medium-sized city!
Even though biomethane is currently around 30% cheaper than natural gas, it seems SpaceX still uses fossil-derived methane for its fuel. I mean, if Musk was launching a carbon-neutral rocket, you can bet he would be yelling about it. So, him saying that global warming is one of the greatest challenges we face, yet not making this simple fuel switch, is a perplexing and worrying inconsistency for someone so powerful.
So yes, SpaceX is headed in the right direction and will soon reach for the heavens once again, taking humanity one step closer to the cosmos. What we will be able to do with Starship is almost beyond the imagination. But I can’t help but feel Musk’s actions are slowly tainting this achievement. Certainly, disagree with me; we don’t all have to have the same opinion. But surely integrity and morals are just as crucial as getting humanity into space.
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