Starship might finally fly this week. The world’s tallest and most powerful rocket could have its second test flight as early as November 17, SpaceX announced on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter). The company is waiting for further regulatory approval before going ahead.
The success of the mission is critical for NASA’s Artemis program; the agency’s current contract with SpaceX is to use Starship to ferry astronauts to and from lunar orbit during the Artemis III and Artemis IV missions. There is currently no other way for astronauts to get to the Moon, although earlier this year, NASA also opened the Moon lander contract to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
SpaceX’s Starship first test in April has been described as a partial success, as its rocket, the tallest and most powerful ever launched, did fly. Unfortunately, problems during the flight led to the team blowing it up for safety. The dramatic explosion led to necessary scrutiny of the launch and aftermath.
It turned out that the launchpad was completely destroyed, as it lacked a flame trench or diverter, and was also missing a water-deluge system. The effect of the rocket on the launchpad and the damage it caused was caught on video. In a statement to CNBC, the USFWS said that around 385 acres (156 hectares) of land were affected by debris from the launch. SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk admitted that the reinforcement of the pad was not ready on time.
Based on Musk’s declarations at the time, some have speculated that Musk’s “childish obsession” with 420, a number associated with smoking cannabis, was the reason the launch was pushed forward to April 20. Musk also stated that the second test was going to take place by June, but the consequences of the first test took much longer to deal with than originally anticipated.
Starship is not the only element still up in the air when it comes to the human return to the Moon, but it is a crucial one. Without success in the upcoming test, Artemis III will suffer major delays.