SpaceX has installed a new component, hot staging, to its latest Starship Booster9 rocket prototype. The hardware has been prepared for the upcoming test flight. Starship, SpaceX’s revolutionary space transport system, consists of two fully reusable elements: a massive booster as the first stage, known as Super Heavy, and an upper-level spacecraft towering 50 meters high, called Ship.
Modification aimed at separation
The duo has only flown together once to date, in a test flight on April 20th from SpaceX’s Starbase site in southern Texas, with the goal of sending Starship around Earth. It didn’t happen as planned; Starship and Super Heavy failed to separate as expected, prompting SpaceX to activate the self-destruct command, blowing up the pair high above the Gulf of Mexico.
In response to this failed experience, the company has made a series of design changes with the goal of increasing the chances of success in future tests. The most significant change involves the separation system of the two stages of the spacecraft. The next Starship test will involve the Super Heavy prototype called Booster9 and a stage called Ship25.
“Interstage vent and heat shield installed on top of Booster9. Starship and Super Heavy are being upgraded to use a separation method called hot-staging, where the engines of Starship’s second stage will ignite to move the ship away from the booster” the company wrote today, August 18, in an X post.
There is no set date for the next test.
“The superheated plasma from the upper stage engines has to go somewhere” Musk told journalist Ashlee Vance in a discussion on X on June 24, during which he revealed the significant modification. “So, we’re adding an extension to the booster that’s almost like an air scoop, essentially. This way, the engine plume from the upper stage can go through the sort of ventilated extension of the booster and not explode”.
Hot staging installed on Booster9 is not a novelty. The device is commonly used on Russian rockets and could also increase Starship’s payload capacity in orbit by 10%, Musk added. Booster 9 and Ship 25 flight will have similar goals to those of the April 20th mission. SpaceX aims to launch the test flight soon, but no target date has been announced.
Starship has not yet been authorized for launch by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA, which grants launch licenses, is still reviewing the report on the April 20th test flight incident that SpaceX submitted. “When a final report on the incident is approved, it will identify corrective actions SpaceX must take” FAA officials said in a statement. “Separately, SpaceX must amend its license to incorporate such actions before receiving reauthorization”.