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Elon Musk and SpaceX had to make many changes to get the rocket off the ground again

SPACE – Elon Musk is trying his luck again. The second test launch of Starship, the world’s largest and most powerful rocket ever built, is scheduled for this Saturday, November 18. SpaceX has received authorization from the FAA, the American aviation regulator. But it was not a foregone conclusion, seven months after a takeoff which had caused much more damage than expected.

As you can see in the video at the top of the article, the launch pad was not up to standard and risks concerning biodiversity at the launch area were highlighted, leading to an FAA investigation. If we add to this the fact that the rocket exploded after four minutes, this first launch was far from a success contrary to what Elon Musk, boss of SpaceX, declared.

The completely rebuilt firing point

Back to spring. On April 20, 2023, the 120 meter high rocket launches into the sky. But at the time of takeoff, an impressive cloud of dust formed near the launcher’s 33 engines and extended to the Texan town of Port Isabel, about ten kilometers from the SpaceX launch base. Residents’ cars and homes are covered in a layer of dust, worrying local authorities; they decide to close Boca Chica beach and part of the highway that runs alongside Starbase.

The rocket’s launch pad is not spared either. It is partially destroyed by the power of the machine’s engines, sending debris and pieces of concrete flying. A deep crater has also been dug beneath the infrastructure.

Elon Musk assures that changes have been made, reports the Space.com site, so that these problems no longer arise. The launch area was rebuilt and a system of “deluge” water has been installed and tested. These torrents of water discharged when the engines are started must attenuate the acoustic waves and therefore limit vibrations. The SpaceX boss also explained that 1,000 cubic meters of high-strength reinforced concrete were poured to reinforce the platform.

Elon Musk and SpaceX had to make many changes to get the rocket off the ground again

A danger for biodiversity?

The other environmental issue concerns biodiversity. Several NGOs had said they wanted to sue SpaceX because of the damage caused by the first takeoff. “The launch area is located next to habitats of protected species”declared the NGO Center for Biological Diversity in a press release, emphasizing that the test had “ sprinkled the surroundings with particles » fine.

The organization also denounced noise pollution and fire outbreaks. The first test flight caused a fire of about 1.5 hectares in the Boca Chica regional park, south of the launch area, according to the federal wildlife protection services. “The consequences of the takeoff include numerous pieces of concrete, steel plates, metals and other objects thrown hundreds of meters, and a cloud of pulverized concrete deposited material” up to more than 10 km northwest of the firing point, detailed the federal services.

The FAA had opened an environmental investigation, carried out in collaboration with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. But this is not yet finished. Questioned by AFP, Jared Margolis, lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity declared: “We fear that this second launch will once again create significant environmental damage.”

Elon Musk and SpaceX had to make many changes to get the rocket off the ground again

NASA on alert

Added to this is SpaceX’s main problem, that concerning its rocket itself. During the first test, the two stages of the craft failed to separate in flight. The separation system was therefore changed, Elon Musk indicated at the beginning of October, adding that the test of this new system would be “the riskiest part” of the second try. “I don’t want to raise too high hopes”he warned.

This new takeoff will remain closely scrutinized, particularly by NASA. Indeed, SpaceX is responsible for building the lander which will deposit astronauts on the lunar soil during the Artemis 3 mission scheduled for December 2025. The lander must be a modified version of the Starship spacecraft but the machine still seems far from ‘be ready.

Jim Free, a senior NASA official, has repeatedly expressed his concerns about Artemis 3, particularly because “difficulties encountered by SpaceX”. “ We can expect the project to slide towards 2026”, he said in June. Two months later, he even suggested that the Artemis 3 mission could be transformed into a “ different mission » in the event of delays on certain key elements.

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