SpaceX says the craft, which would be the most powerful space rocket ever launched, will be key to reaching Mars one day.
SpaceX has canceled a long-awaited test flight of its juggernaut Spatialshiphours after the company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, sought to lower expectations surrounding the launch.
The California-based company announced in a live webcast Monday in the final minutes of the countdown that it was canceling the test for at least 48 hours. He cited a pressurization issue in the lower stage rocket booster, known as the Super Heavy Booster.
The cancellation left the spacecraft sitting on the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, United States, its stainless steel body stretching out into the sky. The global launch ship is 120 meters (394 feet) tall, taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty.
“Learned a lot today, unloading propellant now, trying again in a few days,” Musk tweeted after the launch was cleared.
A successful launch into space would represent a key milestone in SpaceX’s ambition to return humans to the Moon and, ultimately, Mars.
US space agency NASA has chosen the Starship spacecraft to carry astronauts to the moon in late 2025 – a mission known as Artemis III – for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1972.
The upper deck Starship cruise ship is designed to carry crew and cargo. It sits atop a 70-meter (230 ft) tall Super Heavy booster rocket. Both are designed to be reusable components with the ability to make a “soft” landing on Earth, although no parts are supposed to be salvaged on the first test launch.
SpaceX chose to use stainless steel in the construction of Starship, as opposed to the lighter alloys typically used in spacecraft. The material has noticeably better temperature tolerance, but adds considerable weight.
Nonetheless, a successful first flight would instantly rank the Starship system as the most powerful launch vehicle on Earth. As designed, the Starship rocket is nearly twice as powerful as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which made its first unmanned flight in orbit in November.
Prototypes of the Starship cruise ship have made five subspace flights up to 10 km (6 miles) above Earth in recent years, but the Super Heavy booster has never left the ground. In February, SpaceX conducted a test-firing of the booster, igniting 31 of its 33 Raptor engines for about 10 seconds with the rocket bolted in place vertically atop a platform.
Monday’s launch was scheduled just three days after the Federal Aviation Administration granted a license for the test, clearing a final regulatory hurdle for the long-awaited launch.
Still, Musk, speaking on a Twitter Spaces live event on Sunday, said he wanted to “lower expectations” because “probably tomorrow won’t be a success – if by success you mean reaching the ‘orbit”.
“It’s a very risky flight,” Musk said. “This is the first launch of a gigantic, very complicated rocket.”
If a launch goes as planned, all 33 Raptor engines will ignite simultaneously to launch the spacecraft on a flight that nearly completes a full orbit of Earth before it re-enters the atmosphere and plummets into the sky. Pacific at supersonic speeds about 60 miles (97 km) off the coast of the northern Hawaiian Islands.
After separating from the Starship, the Super Heavy booster is expected to execute the beginnings of a controlled return flight before plunging into the Gulf of Mexico.