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SpaceX Scraps Starship Launch At The Last Minute Due To Frozen Valve

A rocket sits on a launch pad near water.
SpaceX postponed plans to test the world's largest rocket on Monday after noting a frozen pressure valve.
Courtesy SpaceX)
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The commercial spaceflight company SpaceX scrapped its first scheduled test flight of Starship, a huge, stainless-steel rocket that could one day carry humans to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The first launch attempt was set to take place in South Texas during a 150-minute window on Monday morning. Just about 10 minutes before the anticipated liftoff, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in tweet that a valve appeared to be frozen, rendering the mission untenable.

The issue occurred in the spacecraft's super-heavy booster, the company said on a livestream. The booster contains 33 engines designed to work together to lift the 400-foot-tall rocket off the ground.

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SpaceX says it'll need a minimum of 48 hours until the next launch is possible, said systems engineer Kate Tice. Musk said the team would try again "in a few days."

"With a test such as this, success is measured by how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship," SpaceX said in a tweet during Monday's launch countdown. The team continued going through the motions as a wet dress rehearsal, stopping just before igniting the engines.

Starship is unlike any other rocket, and SpaceX acknowledges that the first test flight will be extremely risky.

"It's a very complex machine; it has so many different components," says Paulo Lozano, director of MIT's space propulsion laboratory. The rocket is larger than any ever built. Success will depend upon dozens of engines, firing in perfect synchrony.

The stakes could not be higher, at least to hear SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speak about the mission.

"Eventually the Sun will expand and destroy all life," Musk said, standing before the giant rocket about a year ago. "It is very important — essential in the long-term — that we become a multi-planet species."

Musk hopes Starship will provide a critical step to becoming multiplanetary, by allowing large payloads to be carried into orbit for cheap. His goal is for Starship to someday transport the first people to Mars.

SpaceX also has a business interest in seeing its mammoth rocket fly. Starship could be used to launch large numbers of the company's internet-providing "Starlink" satellites. Starlink is seen as a key part of SpaceX's future, and Starship would allow the network to rapidly grow, says Tim Farrar, the president of TMF associates, a telecom consulting firm.

A rendering shows a large rocket on the surface of of the moon with the Earth visible beyond.
NASA hopes Starship can be used to land astronauts on the moon for the first time in over 50 years.
Courtesy SpaceX)
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NASA is also paying SpaceX to develop a version of Starship to visit the moon, though that mission is likely still several years away.

The launch of Starship comes at a difficult time for the tech industry, Farrar notes. SpaceX is currently trying to raise additional capital to keep the development of Starship and Starlink going.

For now, investors seem happy to let SpaceX try out its massive, potentially interplanetary rocket. But he says that if the launch fails and Starship falls further behind schedule, it could affect all of SpaceX's business, especially in the current financial climate.

SpaceX seems to understand the risks. When the company recently posted its timeline for Monday's test flight, it replaced "liftoff" in its mission timeline with two words: "excitement guaranteed."

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