SpaceX is already testing tech that could strengthen the ground beneath its giant Starship rocket's orbital launch pad, a new video shows.
The immense power of Starship's 33 first-stage Raptor engines blasted out a crater beneath the pad that day, sending chunks of broken concrete flying through the dusty air.
A day after the highly anticipated test flight, Elon Musk tweeted that SpaceX was already working on a way to prevent or minimize such damage — "a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount."
Such efforts had begun three months prior, the billionaire entrepreneur said. The plate system wasn't ready in time for the April 20 launch, but SpaceX went ahead with it anyway, assuming that the concrete beneath Starship would survive a single liftoff. That turned out not to be the case, as we saw on April 20.
The steel-plate work has continued apace since then. Indeed, the company recently tested a prototype plate against the power of a single Raptor.
SpaceX tweeted out 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 in one piece — no mean feat, considering what it was up against.
"One hell of a plasma beam!" Musk tweeted on Friday, in a reply to the SpaceX tweet.
One hell of a plasma beam! https://t.co/y8uOTeFlsDMay 19, 2023
SpaceX is developing Starship to launch astronauts to the moon and Mars, and to take over most, if not all, of the company's spaceflight portfolio down the road. NASA is a believer in the vehicle, choosing it as the first crewed lunar lander for its Artemis moon program.
The April 20 test flight aimed to send Starship's upper stage most of the way around Earth, culminating in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. That didn't happen, however; the vehicle's two stages failed to separate as planned, and SpaceX ordered the prototype to self-destruct high over the Gulf of Mexico a few minutes after liftoff.
SpaceX is building multiple Starship vehicles at Starbase and aims to launch the next one soon. Musk said recently that the next Starship flight could occur within the next month or two — provided the steel-plate system is ready by then and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration greenlights the mission.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.