The day after the highly anticipated test flight of the Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted (ref.) that the company was already working on a cooling plate to prevent or minimize damage to the Orbital Launch Platform (OLP) during launch. “A huge water-cooled steel plate to be placed under the launch support” he declared in the tweet.
Solution to the problem
Some efforts in this regard had started three months prior, said the billionaire entrepreneur. The cooling plate system for the OLP was not ready in time for the April 20 launch, but SpaceX proceeded anyway, assuming that the concrete beneath the Starship would survive a single liftoff.
In reality, the damage after the launch was significant, and the company had to resort to plan B. Since then, work on the steel plate has resumed at a rapid pace. In fact, the company recently tested a prototype plate against the power of a single Raptor. SpaceX tweeted a 20-second video of the test on Friday, May 19. When the steam clears at the end of the clip, the plate appears to still be intact—a remarkable feat, considering what it collided with.
“A damn plasma ray!” Musk tweeted on Friday in response to SpaceX’s tweet. The company is developing Starship to launch astronauts to the Moon and Mars and to eventually replace most, if not all, of the company’s current spacecraft lineup along the way.
Even the US space agency, NASA, firmly believes in SpaceX’s project. The top officials of the American agency have chosen Starship as the first crewed lunar lander for their ambitious Artemis lunar program.
Halfway failed test
April 20 test flight aimed to send the upper stage of the spacecraft around Earth, culminating in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and the two prototype stages failed to separate as intended. For this reason, SpaceX ordered the vehicle’s self-destruction over the Gulf of Mexico just minutes after liftoff.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is building more Starship vehicles and refining the cooling plate to be placed under the OLP at Starbase. Musk recently stated that the next Starship flight could occur within the next month or two. The conditions are twofold: the steel plate system must be ready by then, and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must give clearance for the mission.