The mantra Elon Musk follows is “test early, break it, and learn”, and engineers at his SpaceX company certainly had a lot of lessons to learn after the first flight test in April.
Starship’s fiery exhaust dug out an enormous hole under the launch pad, hurling debris in all directions. Scientists later calculated the forces generated by the vehicle’s first-stage engines were similar to those found in an erupting volcano.
“The rocket exhaust went through cracks in the launchpad’s concrete. It was super hot, it was approximately 2,000C, and it vaporised the groundwater,” explained Phil Metzger from the University of Central Florida.
“We actually used the equations of volcanoes to predict how fast ejecta would fly – 90 meters per second.”
Engineers have since installed a structure at the pad they liken to an upside-down showerhead. This will produce immense fountains of water in a bid to dampen the heat and noise at lift-off.