Why did the Starship rocket damage its launch pad so much?
With the launch of the Artemis 1 mission, the Space Launch System became the most powerful rocket ever to fly. But the power of the starship is on another level. The Raptor first-stage engines on SpaceX’s new rocket produce approximately 16.5 million pounds of thrust when burning at full capacity. Of course, in the recent flight, some engines did not turn on; As a result, the thrust level in the first flight of the starship was less than the maximum amount.
SpaceX originally planned to drill a flame trench at Starbase off the coast of Boca Chica; But in the end, he gave up on this decision. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO said on Twitter in October 2020: “We do not intend to have a flame diversion ditch at Bokachika; But it may turn out to be a wrong decision.”
However, the aftermath of the recent Starship flight doesn’t mean Musk is questioning his decision. Based on Musk’s recent comments, he apparently thinks that SpaceX can still find a way to launch a Starship smoothly without a flamethrower.
Last Friday, Musk tweeted that SpaceX had begun construction three months ago on a massive water-cooled steel plate that will be placed under the launch pad. This plate was not ready in time for Starship’s first orbital launch, and SpaceX decided to lift the rocket off the ground without it; Because he thought that the concrete used in the launch pad (a special type of heat-resistant concrete called fondag) could withstand the heat generated when the starship took off.
SpaceX decided to launch without a steel plate based on data from the Starship’s first full steady burn in February. At that time, the Raptor’s 33 first-stage engines were commanded to fire briefly while the rocket was grounded. Of these, two engines failed. But Musk said in a tweet on Saturday that in the steady burn test, the Starship’s true and full power was not produced at launch.
We’ll soon find out if the new steel plate can provide enough protection for the launch pad. In his tweet, Musk added that SpaceX should be ready for the next Starship launch in one to two months. However, repairs to the launch pad and other damage could take several months, delaying subsequent Starship launch attempts.