— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 18, 2023
SpaceX flew Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, for the second time ever today – and even though both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage had to be blown up in mid-air, it was still a huge success for the company best known for taking a rapidly iterative approach to hardware development.
Although the upper stage (which is also called Starship) did not complete the full flight plan, which would’ve seen it glide halfway around the world and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, the mission had a notable handful of major wins.
The rocket lifted off at 7:03 AM CST from SpaceX’s massive Starship development and launch facilities near Boca Chica, Texas. At liftoff, all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster were lit and none went out during the mission, which is a huge improvement from the first launch, which lost around six engines between lift-off and flight.
The launch infrastructure, including the orbital launch mount that the vehicle sits on prior to lift-off, also seemed to have fared better this time around. This suggests that the new water deluge system, which floods the launch area with water at engine ignition, seemed to have successfully protected the infrastructure. (During the first launch, the power of the Raptor engines igniting sent huge chunks of concrete and dust into the air, effectively destroying the orbital launch mount.)
The other major win came during stage separation. The first Starship orbital flight test didn’t get this far. But the second time around, using a novel stage separation technique known as “hot staging,” SpaceX managed to pull it off.