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Musk says next Starship launch could reach orbit

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes the third launch of Starship has a “really good shot” of reaching orbit after his teams discovered what scuppered the second blast-off.

Speaking at the Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas, last week, Musk revealed the failure was due to a propellant dump that was only used because the rocket wasn’t carrying a payload.

“Flight two actually almost made it to orbit,” he said. “If it had a payload, it would have made it to orbit because the reason that it actually didn’t quite make it to orbit was we vented the liquid oxygen, and the liquid oxygen ultimately led to a fire and an explosion.”

SpaceX is currently targeting February for its next attempted blast-off.


Starship is the collective name for the SpaceX Super Heavy booster rocket and Starship spacecraft destined to fly humans to Mars one day.

Its first launch in April failed to reach orbit but surpassed expectations by crucially passing through Max Q, the period in which the spacecraft endures maximum dynamic pressure.

It later emerged a few of its Super Heavy rocket’s Raptor engines burnt out and the booster didn’t correctly separate from the spacecraft. It meant the two vehicles, still attached, entered a death spiral.

Other problems with the blast-off saw damage to the concrete launch pad at Boca Chica, with debris reportedly thrown as far as the town of Port Isabel 10 kilometres away.


In a Twitter Spaces post-mortem, the SpaceX founder said the launch had “slightly exceeded” expectations and downplayed the risks from the debris cloud.

That launch beat NASA’s record of the world’s most powerful rocket to go into operation as it reached an altitude of 39 kilometres over the Gulf of Mexico.

A second attempt, in November, went one better with a successful first-stage separation and all of its Raptor engines firing as planned.

However, it ultimately failed eight minutes into the mission when it reached an altitude of 91 miles.

According to SpaceX, a perfect launch would have seen Starship fly for 90 minutes and hit an altitude of 150 miles.

“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary,” said the company in an upbeat analysis.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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