SpaceX’s first attempt on Monday to launch Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, was called off. That is not unusual — many flights of new rockets are scrubbed multiple times during early attempts to get off the ground.
But the company says it’s ready to try again. Here’s what you need to know about the next launch attempt.
When is the launch, and how can I watch it?
SpaceX has scheduled the flight for as early as 9:28 a.m. Eastern time, and it could launch any time between then and 10:30 a.m. from the company’s launch site in South Texas.
SpaceX said it would begin a livestream on its YouTube channel approximately 45 minutes before the rocket is ready to liftoff.
During a livestream for a different SpaceX launch on Wednesday, the company noted that another Starship postponement was possible.
“If we do make an attempt tomorrow, the chances of scrubs are high,” said Jessie Anderson, a SpaceX engineer who also hosts some of the company’s webcasts.
Is the launch attempt really on April 20?
Yes, yes it is.
Maybe it is just a coincidence that SpaceX, the spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk, is lighting up a rocket on the 20th day of the fourth month of this year.
Maybe. Then again, numerous observers have noted Mr. Musk’s penchant for inserting references to “420,” a number associated with cannabis, into his public dealings. Examples include the purchase price per share he proposed for Twitter ($54.20) and the share price at which he said he would take his electric car manufacturing company, Tesla, private ($420).
Why didn’t Starship launch on Monday?
There was a problem with a valve in the pressurization system of Super Heavy, the booster that helps Starship get to orbit — it appeared to be frozen. After examining the stuck valve and refreshing the liquid methane and oxygen propellants needed to fuel Starship, SpaceX determined it was ready to launch again on Thursday.
“It looked like kind of a scene out of science fiction,” said Phil Larson, the chief government affairs officer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who was standing on the beach on South Padre Island, just north of the launch site. “Kids playing in the water and a massive rocket in the distance.”
Mr. Larson, who worked at SpaceX when Mr. Musk first announced plans for a Mars ship in 2016, said he was not disappointed when the launch was called off.
“I did not expect it to go,” Mr. Larson said.
What is Starship?
It is the tallest rocket ever built — 394 feet tall, or nearly 90 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty with the pedestal.
And it has the most engines ever in a rocket booster: The Super Heavy, the lower section that will propel the Starship vehicle to orbit, has 33 of SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engines sticking out of its bottom. They are able to generate 16 million pounds of thrust at full throttle, far more than the Saturn V that carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Starship is designed to be entirely reusable. The Super Heavy booster is expected to land much like SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets, and Starship will be able to return from space belly-flopping through the atmosphere like a sky diver before pivoting to a vertical position for landing.
Why is SpaceX building Starship?
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is the most frequently launched rocket in the world. Starship is the next step. It would be able to carry far more cargo and many more people than Falcon 9. And because it is fully reusable, Starship could greatly reduce the cost of launching payloads to orbit.
NASA is paying SpaceX to build a version of the vehicle to carry astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface for the Artemis III and IV missions later in the decade. The spacecraft is also central to Mr. Musk’s vision of sending people to Mars.
What will happen during the flight?
For the test flight on Thursday, Starship will fly almost completely around the Earth, starting from Texas and splashing down in waters off Hawaii.
About eight minutes after the launch on Thursday, the Super Heavy booster will splash into the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship vehicle will fly higher into space, reaching an altitude of about 150 miles and traveling around the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere. If it survives re-entry, about 90 minutes after launching, it will splash into the Pacific Ocean some 62 miles north of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
But with all the new systems in Starship, the SpaceX founder acknowledged the difficulties of achieving all of the flight’s goals.
“There’s a million ways this rocket could fail,” Mr. Musk said. “I could go on for hours.”