SpaceX feels the pressure, scraps first orbital launch of Starship
Another attempt is possible later this week, depending on how the troubleshooting goes
Today's first orbital launch of SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster was canceled due to a pressurization valve malfunction in the first stage of the combined craft.
The pressurization issue appeared at around T-17 minutes, and SpaceX made the decision at around T-5 minutes to transition the launch into a "wet dress" rehearsal, which involves fully fueling and prepping Starship for launch before ending the countdown just prior to ignition.
The launch would have been the first combined operation of Starship and a Super Heavy booster.
SpaceX said in a stream before the event that there were launch windows 24 and 48 hours from today's planned launch, but after canceling the launch the company said it would take at least 48 hours for the tanks to be depressurized and engineers to troubleshoot the issue.
The planned scenario for today's test was an orbital launch, with the Super Heavy booster engine landing in the Gulf of Mexico, followed by a victory lap around Earth scheduled to take a bit more than an hour. SpaceX's plans indicate a water landing in the Pacific Ocean, and a vertical landing isn't on the cards:
"The team will not attempt a vertical landing of Starship or a catch of the Super Heavy booster," SpaceX said.
During the livestream, SpaceX said it would have been the first time the Super Heavy booster and Starship had been launched together, and so the goal was to get as much information on the combined operation of the two vehicles as possible, with a successful landing not important for the scope of the mission.
Not a bad move for a craft with a history of failing to stick the landing.
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Starship has been under development for years, and in a handful of test flights has failed to do much but flop over and/or explode. Its most recent test, in May 2021, was the first launch of a full-sized Starship craft that didn't end in an explosion. The May 2021 mission accomplished its goal of a suborbital flight and successful vertical landing, albeit with a small methane fire that burned for around 20 minutes after the craft landed. The craft has been grounded since then, with today's launch the first planned since the successful 2021 test.
SpaceX's eventual goal for its Starship craft is to land humans back on the Moon as part of NASA's Artemis program. SpaceX was most recently awarded a second contract option from NASA worth $1.5 billion (£1.2 billion) to deliver humans to the lunar surface in 2027 with Artemis IV, giving the Musk-owned space firm just an additional four years from today's launch to a successful Moon landing.
The first crewed launch of Starship is scheduled to occur as part of the privately funded Polaris Program, but a date hasn't been set. ®