SpaceX has officially got its license to attempt a second launch for its megarocket Starship tomorrow. Starship, the transport system that will take Artemis astronauts to the Moon, launched for the first time back in April but suffered several problems shortly after liftoff, resulting in SpaceX intentionally blowing the rocket up. If it fails again, the next Moon landing is likely to be postponed.
When will Starship launch?
The rocket, which is the most powerful ever built, is currently at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in south Texas. Liftoff is expected on Friday, November 17, with a 2-hour launch window that opens at 8 am ET (1 pm UTC).
The plan is if Starship launches successfully into space tomorrow it will fly east for 90 minutes over the Gulf of Mexico at a near-orbital speed of 28,160 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour) and an altitude of 250 kilometers (150 miles), before splashing down near Hawai’i. Both stages are reusable – a crucial element of the Artemis missions – but SpaceX is not looking to attempt the iconic vertical landings of its Falcon Heavy.
The biggest and most powerful rocket ever built
Starship, which is made up of the “Starship” upper stage and the “Super Heavy” first stage booster, is 122 meters (400 feet) tall when fully stacked, towering over NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which reaches 98 meters (322 feet) in height altogether.
SLS was the reigning champion as the most powerful rocket ever built until Starship’s assembly, but they are not in competition. That two such rockets exist at the same time is pretty phenomenal. With these super heavy-lift vehicles, both will be able to lift into orbit bigger items than ever before, with the potential to send enormous things to the Moon.
The success of Starship is critical to NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon. The agency’s current contract with SpaceX is to use the rocket to ferry astronauts to and from the Moon for the Artemis III and Artemis IV missions. Any delay in Starship likely means a delay in the lunar landing currently scheduled for 2025.
Why SpaceX blew up Starship
Starship’s first launch back in April has been described as a partial success as it did indeed fly. The two stages, however, were meant to separate and the Starship upper stage was due to fly partway around Earth for 90 minutes and splash down in the Pacific. When the stages failed to separate, SpaceX deliberately blew up the rocket to keep it from veering off course.
It did still damage part of Starbase, blowing out a chunk of concrete from beneath its orbital launch mount and raining debris in the vicinity.
How to watch Starship’s second test flight launch
You can watch Starship’s second flight test launch tomorrow via SpaceX, and its social media platforms including X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube, with coverage starting from 7:30 am EST (12:30 am UTC).
If the conditions for launch are not right, the backup launch windows are on Saturday, November 18 and Sunday, November 19 with timings TBC.