SpaceX just lit the Starship engines to test a water deluge system for fighting what Elon Musk called a ‘rock tornado’



SpaceX fired up the engines on its latest Starship booster Sunday afternoon in Texas, while simultaneously testing a new water deluge system on the vehicle’s launchpad.

The ignition test lasted just 2.74 seconds, according to SpaceX, and four of the vehicle’s engines shut down early. As the engines fired, water from the deluge system sprayed upward from underneath Starship’s launch mount. SpaceX briefly provided a livestream view of the test, which took place at the company’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

The ignition served as an important testing milestone for SpaceX as it prepares for the next launch of its massive, deep-space Starship rocket system. The company performed the first test launch of Starship in April. During that flight, Starship failed to reach space, and SpaceX was forced to purposely destroy the vehicle when it started tumbling out of control.

The new water deluge system is designed to dampen the powerful effects caused by igniting the rocket’s engines during launch. Starship’s massive Super Heavy booster, needed to propel the vehicle into space, has 33 Raptor engines at its base — all of which are meant to fire simultaneously at liftoff.

Read more: SpaceX Starship Has Much Better Chance After Overhaul, Musk Says

The force of igniting so many Raptor engines at once proved to be quite damaging to the launchpad, as SpaceX learned during the first test flight of Starship. Though only 30 Raptor engines were initially ignited, they still caused what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called a “rock tornado” underneath the launchpad. The launch sent chunks of concrete and debris thousands of feet into the air, damaging the pad and littering the nearby landscape.

To prevent another explosive event, SpaceX’s engineers have been installing steel plates underneath Starship’s launchpad, meant to deflect the immense heat and forces caused by the Raptor engines. Sunday’s test marked the first time that SpaceX attempted to test the deluge system while igniting the engines.

Read more: SpaceX Bets Steel Plates Will Keep Launchpad From Blowing Up

SpaceX didn’t immediately clarify if the ignition test was considered a success, however the host of the livestream, John Insprucker, said after the firing that Starship’s “pad looks good. The launch vehicle looks good.”

The company hasn’t yet set a launch date for Starship’s second test flight. In late April, Musk predicted during a Twitter audio discussion that Starship would be ready to fly again in six to eight weeks.



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