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A new attempt Thursday made for the first flight of Starship, the world’s largest rocket

The first takeoff of the world’s largest rocket, the Starship, which is being developed by SpaceX for flights to the moon and Mars, will be attempted again on Thursday after a last-minute delay on Monday due to a technical problem.

The new shooting window will open Thursday at 8:28 a.m. local time (9:28 a.m. Montreal time), the company said, for just over an hour. This behemoth will be launched from the Starbase space base, in the far south of Texas.

From a height of 120 meters, the Starship belongs to the class of super-heavy launchers, capable of delivering more than 100 tons of cargo into orbit. Its take-off power should be more than twice that of the legendary Saturn V, the Apollo rocket for the moon program (111 meters).

Monday morning, weather conditions were perfect and the rocket filling with cryogenic fuel, liquid oxygen and methane proceeded as planned. But “it looks like the valve has frozen”, finally chirp Elon Musk, the president of SpaceX, before officially announcing the delay, less than 10 minutes before the scheduled liftoff time. “We learned a lot today,” He said anyway.

This black and silver mastodon never flew in its full configuration, with its super-strong first stage, called the Super Heavy.

Only the second stage of the vehicle, the spacecraft, the spacecraft, which gives its name to the entire rocket, has conducted suborbital tests (at an altitude of about 10 km).

The flight plan for the new test is as follows: about three minutes after liftoff, the Super Heavy should separate and return to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship must then fire its six engines and continue its ascent on its own, up to an altitude of approximately 150 km. Having achieved less than a rotation of the Earth for about an hour, it should fall back into the Pacific Ocean. But SpaceX said this is the “best case scenario,” because the outcome of the test flight is uncertain.

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And Elon Musk warned on Sunday that “if we see anything that worries us during the preparations, we will postpone the trip.” He warned that reaching orbit on the first try is highly unlikely.

The billionaire was content with hoping that the test, the main purpose of which was to collect as much data as possible for the next prototypes, would not destroy the launch pad.

His fear: that one of the Super Heavy 33 Raptor’s engines could explode and cause a “domino effect” to spread to the others. “It would certainly take several months to rebuild the launch pad if we melted it down,” he explained.

Completely reusable

NASA will follow this inaugural flight closely. The US space agency chose this spacecraft to land its astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than half a century, during the Artemis 3 mission officially scheduled for 2025.

The astronauts will take off separately aboard NASA’s new massive rocket, the SLS (98 meters high, with a take-off power nearly twice that planned for the spacecraft). They will travel to the Moon in the Orion capsule, which will then dock with the Starship spacecraft, which has previously been placed in lunar orbit. It is he who will bring astronauts to the surface of the moon. Without this lander, Artemis 3 could not have happened.

In the future, the new rocket must be fully reusable. Super Heavy will have to return to Earth opposite the launch tower, equipped with booms to catch it. The Starship will have to return to Earth using the retrorocket. It was this maneuver that was tried several times in 2020 and 2021. Then several prototypes descended at breakneck speed, crashing to the ground in impressive explosions – before one finally managed to land.

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The idea of ​​a reusable launcher, Elon Musk’s grand strategy, is to cut prices. He said on Sunday that each Starship flight could end up costing only “a few million” dollars.

The rocket already has clients: American billionaire Jared Isaacman will be at the helm of the first manned flight. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and American businessman Dennis Tito (the first space tourist in history) announced that they would go on a trip around the moon.

But for Elon Musk, the Starship is, first of all, the ship that must allow humanity to become multi-planetary: “We have a difficult path ahead for two or three years. […], but eventually we should have something that will allow us to establish a base on the moon and Mars. »

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