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With less than 24 hours left until liftoff, SpaceX has decided to swap out some components on its ST\tarship rocket. SpaceX’s chief Elon Musk shared the news on his social media platform X, and the quick fix to the rocket came after a post by SpaceX on social media that it had stacked the second stage Starship on the first stage for the final time before launch. According to the SpaceX chief, machines inside Starship that control its landing apparatus are being changed. The last-moment decision came after SpaceX’s live stream link for the Starship Integrated Flight Test 2 (IFT-2) briefly switched to show a November 18th launch date, according to user reports on X.
SpaceX Delays Starship Launch Attempt By A Day To Swap Out Grid Fin Actuator, Says Musk
While Starship is significantly larger than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, it still shares several key design features with SpaceX’s first commercially successful launch vehicle. One such feature is a grid fin design to land the first stage. These fins are located at the top of the rocket and are responsible for countering the force of the Falcon 9 to allow it to orient itself to the ground vertically.
Starship’s Super Heavy booster will follow a similar flight path to the Falcon 9 during its test flight, through its ‘flip maneuver’ after hot staging the second stage. Motors inside the booster control the grid fins that orient the rocket. To swap these out, SpaceX needs access to the top of the Super Heavy booster.
While most attention is focused on the Starship’s second stage reaching orbit, the upcoming test flight is equally important for the Super Heavy. SpaceX has tested the upper-stage Starship multiple times, but it has yet to successfully maneuver the larger first stage after the point of stage separation.
SpaceX’s decision to fix the Starship Super Heavy grid fin system signals its intent to smooth out as many kinks as possible before attempting to fly Starship for the second time. Seven months have passed since the first Starship test flight in April, and since then, SpaceX has made several changes not only to its rocket but also to crucial subcomponents such as the Raptor 2 rocket engine.
The Raptor is arguably the most complex Starship subsystem, and it accounted for most of SpaceX’s work with the FAA to clear Starship’s second launch license. Several of these changes will be part of future Starship test prototypes, increasing the chances of successful, smooth future launches.
Musk shared news of the launch delay soon after a SpaceX X post announced that it had stacked Starship for the final time before launch. However, before his tweet, footage from several on-site cameras and reporters showed de-stacking equipment vehicles making their way to the launch pad.
To access the forward section of the 232-foot tall Super Heavy booster, SpaceX has to remove the hot staging ring. Removing the ring requires de-stacking the second-stage Starship rocket and placing it safely nearby during repairs or upgrades.
Given the sheer complexity of Starship, with similar systems having thousands of components, the fact that the only last-minute change that SpaceX found necessary to implement was an actuator replacement is comforting. Soon after Musk’s post, SpaceX reposted the tweet to confirm the delay of the second Starship integrated flight attempt.
According to an FAA flight advisory, a backup date is also available for November 19th, with future potential dates subject to other planning constraints. While neither the first nor second stage Starship will orbit the Earth after a successful flight, the second stage’s six engines can allow it to enter space before crashing into water.