NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Thursday that SpaceX is confident it can repair the launch pad that was damaged during the Starship’s first test flight and is preparing to launch a second starship in early summer.
Starship made its maiden flight last week
“There was a hole in the launch pad,” NASA Administrator Nelson told lawmakers at a hearing before the House Science Committee on Thursday. “As of today, SpaceX insists that they believe it will take at least two months to rebuild the launch station, and it will take about two months to prepare the second starship.”
So far, SpaceX, local officials, regulators and environmental agencies have been reviewing flight data to assess the damage caused by the maiden flight of what SpaceX calls the most powerful rocket ever. SpaceX has not yet commented.
A large crater was blown out under the launch pad
On April 20 of this year, Starship’s maiden flight ended about four minutes later. At that time, the starship had lost control and was rolling in the air. So SpaceX activated the flight termination system, detonating the starship. While the Starship’s mid-air explosion received the most attention, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said ahead of the test flight that the launch pad’s damage was one of his top concerns.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that the Starship launch scattered debris across the 385-acre SpaceX base and state park land. It also sparked a 3.5-acre fire, the agency said. SpaceX is based on a Gulf of Mexico beach east of Brownsville, Texas.
If SpaceX can repair the pad and have another rocket ready for a second flight attempt in about two months, the company still needs permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch again. A spokesman for the FAA, which regulates commercial space launches, declined to comment on when Starship might make a second flight attempt.
“The timing of the launch will depend on whether it can be done safely,” he said. Some accident investigations could be concluded within weeks, but more complex investigations could take months, the spokesman said.
Damaged launch pad
Shortly after Starship’s maiden flight on April 20, Musk said he expected to try another launch within a few months but later said the company could be ready in one to two months.
Based on the FAA’s environmental assessment of the Starship program, SpaceX has considered adding additional ground infrastructure at its Texas base to handle launches. Musk recently said that the company has begun adding a large water-cooled steel plate under the Starship base on the launch pad. He said the company did not complete the work before the first launch, wrongly assuming that the launch pad’s concrete material would withstand the test of launch.
“The force of the engine acceleration probably destroyed the concrete rather than simply eroding it,” he said in a tweet about Starship’s maiden flight.