SpaceX’s first-ever test flight took place on Thursday, April 20th, 2023, from the company’s Starbase facility in South Texas. This gigantic Starship was considered the most powerful rocket ever built, stacking 394-feet-tall. The Starship reached its maximum altitude of 24 miles before experiencing several issues that led to the vehicle’s destruction over the Gulf of Mexico.
The primary cause for this destruction was the lack of a flame trench, which is a structure designed to deflect plume exhaust from the pad during liftoff. While SpaceX considered a flame trench at Starbase, they ultimately decided not to dig it. The flame trench is a distinctive feature of the launch pad, which can launch very powerful large rockets. NASA recently dug a new flame trench at the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad; with the trench, the site can support the liftoff of megarockets, particularly, NASA’s massive Space Launch System megarocket. NASA’s megarocket has previously (and successfully) launched last November thanks to the flame trench. Even though hardware at the pad suffered small damages, it had the capability of withstanding 8.8 million pounds of thrust generated by the liftoff.
A day after the failed launch, Elon Musk (company founder and CEO of SpaceX), tweeted that SpaceX began building a massive steel plate to be placed under the launch mount three months prior to the launch. The assembly wasn’t completed in time for the debut Starship launch, but it was decided to launch without it. SpaceX believed that the orbital mount’s underlying concrete could survive one liftoff. Musk has recently stated that SpaceX will be ready to try another Starship launch in “1-2 months;” we will soon learn if their new steel plate can provide sufficient protection for the company’s next liftoff.
Wall, Mike. “Why Did SpaceX Starship’s Debut Launch Cause so Much Damage to the Pad?” Space.com, Space, 24 Apr. 2023, https://www.space.com/spacex-starship-damage-starbase-launch-pad.