Starship Flight 3 likely to reach orbit, Elon Musk explains the reason for Flight 2 explosion and achievements of 2023

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This past Friday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave almost an hour-long presentation at the Starbase Rocket Garden. The vibrant CEO of the commercial and adventure space company chalked out the achievements made by SpaceX in 2023.

Along with the presentations for Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon spacecraft, Starlink, and Starship — Musk also praised SpaceX employees for the achievements they made last year.

Elon Musk started his presentation with the following words:

It’s been an incredible year. The SpaceX team I think is the best space team that has been assembled on the face of the Earth by far. And achievements of the past year reflect that.

What you’ve achieved in the past year is nothing short of incredible.

Elon Musk delivers SpaceX achievements in 2023 presentation at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas.
Elon Musk delivers SpaceX achievements in 2023 presentation at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).
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Starship in 2023

Although Elon Musk discussed the Starship achievements at the end of his presentation, we are going to cover it first. The reason behind this is that we have been reporting on the Starship journey since 2020 when SpaceX tested the SN4 prototype.

2023 was special for the Starship program as SpaceX launched the huge spaceship twice in a single year. “It’s incredible that we took off twice last year,” Musk said.

Musk also mentioned that before the start of the Starship program, Boca Chica Beach used to be a sand bar. Today, it has an advanced rocket factory (Starfactory) and a gigantic launch pad (Orbital Launch Mount/OLM).

The power of a Starship can be imagined by the fact that it has twice the thrust of the legendary Saturn V super heavy-lift vehicle. The thrust of the current Starship version with 33 Raptor V2 engines installed on the 1st stage (Super Heavy booster) is 16.5 million pounds. This is more than twice the Saturn V’s 7.5 million pounds of thrust.

According to Elon Musk, with the developments and upgrades coming down the road, Starship’s thrust will be around 20 million pounds.

One day, we will indeed occupy Mars

Elon Musk at Starbase on Friday 12th January 2024.

Starship: The Tallest Rocket Ever Built

Starship is also the tallest space vehicle ever built. The closest spaceship in size to the Starship is the Chinese Long March 9 which is also under development. The following diagram shows us the size comparison of Starship compared to other super heavy-lift vehicles.

Starship's height comparison with other heavy-lift space launch vehicles like Saturn V, Long March 9, SLS, N1, etc.
Starship’s height comparison with other heavy-lift space launch vehicles like Saturn V, Long March 9, SLS, N1, etc. Credit: FloraFallenrose via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
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SpaceX's Starship 2nd stage (the spaceship) is alone as tall as the Statue of Liberty and the Super Heavy rocket booster (the 1st stage) is as tall as the entire Falcon 9 rocket including its fairing.
SpaceX’s Starship 2nd stage (the spaceship) is alone as tall as the Statue of Liberty and the Super Heavy rocket booster (the 1st stage) is as tall as the entire Falcon 9 rocket including its fairing. Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).

Elon Musk presented the above slide during the Starship presentation to explain the context of the height of the Starship. The diagram shows that the Starship 1st stage, the Super Heavy rocket booster is as tall as the Falcon 9 rocket with its upper stage fairing included. A Falcon 9 rocket stands at 70 m / 229.6 ft high.

The 2nd or upper stage of Starship is as tall as the Statue of Liberty (46 m / 151.1 feet). This is actually the spaceship part that is intended to navigate in space, land on the Moon and Mars, etc.

Another interesting point during the Starship presentation came when Elon Musk showed that the Starship is at least as tall as the giant fictional movie character Godzilla.

SpaceX Starship is as tall as the fictional movie character Godzilla.
Diagram: SpaceX Starship is as tall as the fictional movie character Godzilla. Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).

The Flame Deflector OLM Water Deluge System

The massive Starship thrust of the Starship engines during the 1st flight test last year left a big hole in at the base of the Orbital Launch Mount (OLM).

The damage to the OLM generated concerns and criticism of the Starship launch pad’s worthiness. The SpaceX launch pad development team came up with an idea that Elon Musk calls the Flame Deflector. This is the new water deluge system that SpaceX developed between the 1st and the 2nd Starship orbital flight tests.

The OLM Flame Deflector system throws massive amounts of water as soon as the Starship Super Heavy engines start throwing flames during the launch.

According to Elon Musk, after the 2nd Starship launch test, the first thing he checked was the OLM. The new Flame Deflector deluge system is so effective that there was no damage to the OLM after the flight.

“It looked like no damage at all — you can launch again,” Elon Musk said.

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Two Towers

During his SpaceX 2023 Achievements presentation, Elon Musk confirmed that the company will be building another launch tower at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas launch site.

The existing tower is called Mechazilla, the picture of the Two Towers shared by Elon Musk shows both towers as identical.

Starship launch towers with the innovation of the Chopstick arms will not only be used to mount and integrate Starship + Super Heavy but also be used to catch them at landing.

Graphic illustration of the two Starship launch towers at SpaceX Starbase (Two Towers).
Graphic illustration of the two Starship launch towers at SpaceX Starbase (Two Towers). Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).

Electrical Actuation of the Starship Engines

Elon Musk showed one of the biggest upgrades to Starship engine actuation during his presentation. SpaceX has moved away from hydraulic to electrical actuation of the Starship engines.

According to Elon Musk, this upgrade has saved SpaceX a lot of complexity and mass compared to the mechanical/hydraulic actuation previously used to steer the Raptor engines.

SpaceX showed the engine bay of the Super Heavy booster as they are actuated using the new Electric Thrust Vector Control system (see in the following video).

Video: Demonstration of the new Electric Thrust Vector Control system used to steer the angle of the Starship engines. Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).
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Hot Staging and Stage Separation

Another massive upgrade that Starship received in 2023 was the Hot Staging Ring. According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, this upgrade was completed by his team within 3-4 months before the 2nd flight test.

The hot staging upgrade proved to be successful as it helped in the survival of the Super Heavy booster during stage separation. During the stage separation stage, the 2nd stage engines are ignited and their thrust and flames can damage the rocket booster. The Starship Hot Staging Ring protected the booster and helped the ship reach the separation stage successfully.

Fully integrated Starship, Super Heavy and the Hot Staging Ring in between them. Picture taken as Starship gets ready for its 2nd-ever launch attempt from Starbase, Boca Chica,
Fully integrated Starship, Super Heavy and the Hot Staging Ring in between them. Picture taken as Starship gets ready for its 2nd-ever launch attempt from Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX / X (Twitter).

Starship Flight 2 Would Have Made It to Orbit

Toward the end of his presentation, Elon Musk revealed the reason why Starship did not make it to orbit in its Flight 2 test last year.

Elon Musk explained that if Starship had payload onboard during Flight 2, the ship would’ve made it orbit. He said:

In fact, ironically, if it had a payload, it would’ve made it to orbit because the reason that it didn’t quite make it to orbit was we vented the liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid oxygen often led to a fire, and an explosion.

We wanted to vent the liquid oxygen because we only wouldn’t have that oxygen if we had a payload.

So, I think we got a really good shot of reaching orbit with Flight 3 and then a rapid cadence to achieve reusability.

Elon Musk

Conclusion

In the end, Elon Musk pressed the importance of constant building and testing of Starship. He said that SpaceX has already designed Starship V3. The space company is going to test Starship V2 for Flight 3 which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

According to Musk, the key to making human life multi-planetary is making Starships/spaceships as reusable as possible with a large payload capacity. SpaceX estimates that Starship will have a mass-to-orbit payload capacity of around 150 metric tonnes.

Not to forget the On-Orbit Refilling also plays a vital role in extending the Starship journeys to the Moon, Mars and even beyond in the future.

Graph: Starship's estimated payload to orbit of 150 metric tonnes (upmass per launch).
Graph: Starship’s estimated payload to orbit of 150 metric tonnes (upmass per launch). Credit: SpaceX via X (Twitter).
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Stay tuned for future updates on Starship and SpaceX, Follow us on:
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Related

Iqtidar Ali
Iqtidar Alihttp://www.teslaoracle.com
Iqtidar has been writing about Tesla, Elon Musk, and EVs for more than 3 years on XAutoWorld.com, many of his articles have been republished on CleanTechnica and InsideEVs, maintains a healthy relationship with the Tesla community across the Social Media sphere. You can reach him on Twitter @IqtidarAlii

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