On Nov. 18, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the long-awaited second orbital test of Starship, the company’s Mars-colonizing rocket, from its Starbase development site in Boca Chica, Texas. Like its first orbital attempt in April, the rocket exploded in the sky, but not before successfully completing a hot-stage separation—marking a significant improvement. Hot staging, where Starship’s upper stage separates from its booster and ignites its own engines, was the main goal of the test flight.
SpaceX is already preparing for Starship’s third orbital test, which CEO Musk said could happen as soon as December, pending regulatory approval. In an X post on Nov. 19, Musk said there were three Starship prototypes in final production at Boca Chica and that the next one for orbital test should be ready in three to four weeks.
On Nov. 24, Musk posted a photo of three black Starship prototypes standing beside each other at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility.
Four more Starships, the last of V1 pic.twitter.com/Nj6KXbc5GI
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2023
The regulatory process, however, could take much longer. It took SpaceX seven months to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch the second Starship test following the failure of the first one. The most time-consuming part was a mishap investigation carried out by SpaceX and overseen by the FAA to ensure the safety of the next test flight.
The Nov. 18 test was deemed as a flight “anomaly” by the FAA, which required another mishap investigation that could take months, although no injuries or public property damage were reported. In addition, SpaceX needs to pass an FAA environmental review of the third Starship test and apply to modify its launch license to add more flights .
“The FAA will oversee the SpaceX-led mishap investigation to ensure SpaceX complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements,” the FAA said in an emailed statement to Observer after the Nov. 18 test.
Highlights from Starship’s second orbital test:
- Ignition of all 33 Raptor engines on the booster. During Starship’s first orbital test in April, at least eight engines on the booster shut down shortly after liftoff or never started, according to flight video. During the second test, all 33 engines were properly fired up.
The future of space exploration is bright pic.twitter.com/udLIy1txU0
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2023
- Hot-stage separation. About three minutes after liftoff, the Starship’s upper stage separated from its booster and ignited its own engines. The spacecraft reached outer space but eventually lost communication with ground control and exploded in the sky.
Starship’s hot-stage separation was the first time this technique has been done successfully with a vehicle of this size pic.twitter.com/nlfhcPo8m7
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 19, 2023
- The entire flight lasted about eight minutes. That’s double the time of the first test in April.
Magnificent Machine with a 1000 ft plume
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2023