This article has been updated to reflect the new Saturday launch date. Ground teams need the extra time to replace a grid fin actuator on the Starship booster.
As SpaceX gears up for its second Starship test flight, scheduled for Saturday, excitement and anticipation are high, but so too is a sense of dread. Indeed, this ambitious venture is not without its share of risks. Here are 10 major challenges and uncertainties that could impact the outcome of this critically important test.
The first launch of Starship on April 20 turned out to be a fiasco in oh so many ways, yet it’s worth noting that the flight did manage to last for nearly four minutes, attaining a height of approximately 37 miles (60 kilometers). But for such a highly experimental rocket—the largest ever to take to the skies—to last for long has to be considered a partial success. That said, stage separation didn’t unfold as planned and the megarocket entered into a fatal tumble that forced mission controllers to destroy it over the Gulf of Mexico.
Troublingly, the launch, without protective infrastructure at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, resulted in significant damage and the widespread dispersal of debris. This prompted a pair of regulatory investigations, which resulted in dozens of corrective measures. Satisfied, the FAA issued its second Starship launch license on Wednesday.
SpaceX is looking to get back on track with the second mission, but success is no guarantee. This is no ordinary rocket; not only is it huge and heavy, it’s being designed for full reusability. Something like that doesn’t magically appear overnight. Accordingly, here are our areas of concern for Starship flight numéro deux.