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Elon Musk assesses new launchpad design for Starship

SpaceX launched its Starship vehicle for the second time on Saturday.

Unlike the first test flight of the world’s most powerful rocket in April, which ended in a spectacular fireball just a few minutes after launch, this time the second-stage Starship spacecraft managed to successfully separate from the first-stage Super Heavy booster. A few minutes later, however, the booster exploded during its descent, while the spacecraft also failed to complete its flight.

Still, SpaceX hailed the mission a success for having achieved stage separation and will use the gathered data to improve the flight system for the third test flight.

But it wasn’t only the rocket that SpaceX engineers were assessing. They were also keen to see how the new launchpad design held up under the huge pressure and force unleashed by the Super Heavy booster as it lifted off from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

It turns out that it did pretty well, with Elon Musk saying on X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday that the pad was in “great condition” and that no refurbishment was necessary for the next flight.

Just inspected the Starship launch pad and it is in great condition!

No refurbishment needed to the water-cooled steel plate for next launch.

Congrats to @Spacex team & contractors for engineering & building such a robust system so rapidly!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2023

That’s a significant improvement over the first test flight in April, which saw the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines completely destroy the launchpad, sending concrete and other debris over a large area.

The launchpad design included what Musk has previously described as a new “mega-steel pancake” that combines with the water deluge system to offer protection against the 17 million pounds of thrust generated by the Super Heavy booster during liftoff.

Following Saturday’s test mission, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that no injuries or property damage had been reported as a result of the midair explosions. The FAA will now oversee a SpaceX-led investigation into the mission before deciding upon any conditions needed for a third test flight.

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Trevor Mogg
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