A SpaceX Starship lifts off from the launch pad during a flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas on April 20, 2023.
Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images
Elon Musk expects SpaceX to spend about $2 billion developing its Starship rocket this year as the company pushes to build on its first launch earlier this month.
“My expectations for the next flight will be to reach orbit,” Musk said, speaking during a Twitter Spaces discussion on Saturday.
While SpaceX does spin-offs about twice a year to give employees and other company shareholders a chance to sell shares, Musk said the company “does not anticipate the need to raise financing” to further bolster the Starship program and its others undertakings.
“As far as I know, we don’t need to raise additional funding for SpaceX,” Musk said.
As for the dramatic first launch of a Starship rocket on April 20,” the SpaceX CEO said, “The result was about as good as I expected and maybe slightly exceeded my expectations.”
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SpaceX has multiple additional prototypes in various stages of assembly and aims to launch the next attempt to reach space with the soaring rocket within a few months.
“The purpose of these missions is simply information. We don’t have any payload or anything like that – just learning as much as possible,” Musk said.
He put the probability of reaching orbit with a Starship flight this year at “probably” 80 percent, but agreed that he thought there was a “100 percent chance of reaching orbit within 12 months.”
Starship first launched with its Super Heavy booster from Texas on April 20, 2023.
The Starship flight left the launch pad and achieved several milestones, but Musk gave more details about various problems the rocket suffered.
The rocket lifted off with only 30 of the 33 Raptor engines fired at the base of the Super Heavy booster. Musk said SpaceX “chose not to launch” three engines because they weren’t “strong enough to bring them to full thrust. The Starship slid sideways off the launch pad while climbing into the sky, which according to Musk, it was “due to engine damage”.
About 27 seconds into the flight, SpaceX “lost communication” with another engine, an incident that occurred “with some kind of energy event” that removed the heat shield around several other engines. “Things really hit the fan” about 85 seconds after launch, when SpaceX lost “thrust vector control” — or the ability to steer the rocket.
Musk also reported that it took about 40 seconds for the rocket’s AFTS (an autonomous flight termination system that destroys the vehicle if it flies off course) to engage, which SpaceX will have to correct before the next launch attempt.
The strongest part of the rocket’s performance was how well it held together, including going through a launch stage called “Max Q,” or the moment when atmospheric pressure is at its strongest on the rocket.
“The structural limits of the vehicle appear to be better than we expected, as we can tell from the vehicle actually doing somersaults toward the end and still staying intact,” Musk said.
Looking ahead, Musk said SpaceX has “made so many improvements” to future prototypes. The company must ensure that “we don’t lose thrust vector control” with the next launch.
Members of the public walk through the debris field on the launch pad on April 22, 2023, after the SpaceX Starship lifted off April 20 for a flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.
Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images
Back on the ground, Musk said the booster created a “rock tornado” beneath the rocket as it took off. While SpaceX has not seen “evidence that the rock tornado actually damaged engines or heat shields in a material way,” Musk noted that the company “certainly did not expect” to destroy the launch pad’s concrete and create a crater in its wake.
“One of the more plausible explanations is that … we may have compressed the sand under the concrete to such an extent that the concrete would effectively bend and then crack,” Musk said.
A priority for the next flight will be firing the 33 Raptor engines “faster and faster off the pad,” Musk said. It took about five seconds for SpaceX to start the engines and launch the rocket, which Musk noted “is a really long time to blow up the pad.” The company aims to cut that time in half for the next attempt.
A cloud of dust grows below the Starship as the rocket launches its Super Heavy booster from Texas on April 20, 2023.
Aftermath photos show the brutal output of the Super Heavy booster’s engines. A report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the launch threw concrete and metal “thousands of feet” and created a cloud of dust and pulverized concrete that fell 6.5 miles from the launch site.
On Saturday, Musk said “the damage to the pad is actually pretty minor” and should “be fixed quickly.” He estimated that the necessary repairs mean SpaceX will “probably be ready to launch in six to eight weeks.” SpaceX will replace some of the fuel tanks near the launch pad. The 500-foot-tall tower “is in good shape,” with “no significant damage,” although it was hit by “some pretty big chunks of concrete.”
Musk believes the biggest obstacle to flying again is “probably retraining” the AFTS, which destroyed the rocket because it “took too long” to detonate.
SpaceX is moving forward with a plan to place steel plates, which will be cooled by a water system, under the launch tower for the next Starship rocket.
Environmental activists and researchers raised the alarm about the cloud of pulverized concrete and dust created by the launch. Musk claimed the debris was “not toxic at all,” but said “we don’t want to do that again.”
“To our knowledge, there has been no significant environmental damage that we know of,” Musk said.