SpaceX's ambitious reusable rocket will face another critical test on November 17 when the Elon Musk-owned company will attempt a second launch.
SpaceX is gearing up to relaunch the world's largest and most powerful rocket, Starship, next week, pending approval from the US aviation regulator. But will the second attempt end in another colossal explosion?
The development of Starship is being closely monitored by NASA, relying on the spacecraft for its Artemis missions tasked with taking mankind back to the Moon.
A modified version of the vehicle is set to serve as a lunar lander to deposit astronauts on the lunar surface.
"Starship is set to launch on November 17, pending regulatory approval," SpaceX announced on social media on Friday night.
On April 20, Starship had its maiden flight in its complete configuration from Texas.
However, several engines did not function, leading SpaceX teams to intentionally detonate the rocket after a few minutes.
The aviation regulator (FAA) initiated a safety investigation, concluding at the end of October. However, its environmental inquiry, conducted in collaboration with federal wildlife protection services (Fish and Wildlife Service), is still ongoing.
The liftoff sent a dust cloud several kilometers northwest of the launch pad, which itself suffered significant damage. Pieces of concrete were catapulted under the engines' power.
Since then, the launch area has been rebuilt, and a water "deluge" system has been installed and tested. These water torrents released during engine ignition are intended to mitigate acoustic waves, limiting vibrations.
The rocket stands at an impressive 120 meters in height, consisting of two stages: the Super Heavy propulsion stage with its 33 engines, and atop it, the Starship spacecraft, which lends its name to the entire rocket.
Its key innovation is that it is designed to be entirely reusable, with both stages intended to return and land on their launch pad, thereby reducing costs.
During the initial attempt from the Boca Chica base, the two stages had failed to separate in flight.
The separation system has since been modified, as indicated by Elon Musk during a conference in early October. He added that testing this new system would be "the riskiest part" of the second attempt.
"I don't want to raise too high expectations," cautioned the SpaceX CEO.
The flight plan will mirror that of April: the spacecraft is expected to attempt an "almost complete" Earth orbit and then plunge into the water somewhere in the Pacific, just off the coast of Hawaii, according to the billionaire. Consequently, it will not technically reach Earth's orbit but will be "just below it".