A frozen valve forced the first test flight of SpaceX’s spacecraft, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the moon, Mars and beyond, to be postponed on Monday.
Liftoff of the giant rocket was canceled less than 10 minutes before the scheduled launch due to a pressurization problem in the first stage booster, SpaceX said.
The private space company continued with the countdown in what it called a “wet dress rehearsal,” stopping the clock with 10 seconds left, just before the booster’s massive engines were fired.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said a frozen pressure valve forced a scrub of the launch, which was scheduled for 8:20 a.m. Central Time (1320 GMT) from Starbase, SpaceX’s spaceport in Boca Chica, in Texas.
“Learned a lot today, now offloading propellant, try again in a few days,” Musk tweeted.
SpaceX said the maiden flight will be delayed for at least 48 hours to recycle the liquid methane and liquid oxygen that fuel the rocket.
US space agency NASA has chosen the Starship spacecraft to ferry 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 spacecraft consists of a 50-foot-tall spacecraft designed to carry crew and cargo that sits atop a 230-foot-tall first-stage Super Heavy rocket.
SpaceX conducted a successful test launch of the 33 Raptor engines on the first stage booster in February, but the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket have never flown together.
The integrated test flight is intended to evaluate their performance in combination.
Musk had warned before the launch that a delay was likely.
“It’s a very risky flight,” he said earlier. “It’s the first launch of a very complicated giant rocket.
“There are a million ways this rocket could fail,” Musk said. “We’ll be very careful and if we see something that worries us, we’ll postpone it.”
– ‘Multiplanet Species’ –
NASA will take astronauts into lunar orbit itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket ship called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been under development for more than a decade.
Starship is both larger and more powerful than SLS and capable of lifting a payload of over 100 metric tons into orbit.
It generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
The integrated test flight plan calls for the Super Heavy booster to separate from the spacecraft approximately three minutes after launch and crash into the Gulf of Mexico.
The spacecraft, which has six engines of its own, will continue at an altitude of nearly 150 miles, completing a near-circle of the Earth before crashing into the Pacific Ocean about 90 minutes after launch.
“If it gets into orbit, it’s a huge success,” Musk said.
“If we get far enough away from the stepping stone before something goes wrong, I think I’d consider it a success,” he said. “Just don’t blow up the stepping stone.”
SpaceX plans to eventually put a spacecraft into orbit and then refuel it with another spacecraft so it can continue its journey to Mars or beyond.
Musk said the goal is to make Starship reusable and reduce the price to a few million dollars per flight.
“Over the long term — long term, which means, I don’t know, two or three years — we should achieve complete and rapid reusability,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to establish bases on the Moon and Mars and put humans on “the path to becoming a multi-planet civilization,” Musk said.
“We are in this brief moment of civilization where it is possible to become a multi-planet species,” he said. “That’s our goal. I think we have a chance.”