SpaceX to use steel plate for next rocket launch

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SpaceX to use steel plate for next rocket launch

WASHINGTON Elon Musk'sMusk's SpaceX will use a water-cooled steel plate for its next rocket launch, a water-cooled steel plate that can handle the world's most powerful liftoff after the launch attempt of its Starship rocket to reach space caused extensive launchpad damage.

The spacecraft explodes just after liftoff in an uncrewed test flight on Thursday, minutes after liftoff in an uncrewed test flight.

On the ground at SpaceX's launch site in Texas, the rocket's engines - there are over 30 - fired with more force than any other rocket in the world, violently pummeling its launchpad floor as it slowly took flight. That shattered a crater several feet deep and sent big chunks of reinforced concrete flying thousands of feet, photos of the aftermath show.

Musk said on Friday the space company had begun building a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount, but that it would not have been ready before the launch on April 20. It is expected to be ready for installation in 1 to 2 months, he said. On Friday, Musk said SpaceX mistakenly thought that the launchpad foundation would survive a single launch even though the engines fired at half their power.

In 2020, the billionaire CEO had said there would be no need to use a flame diverter to steer the flames on the ground, but acknowledged that could be the wrong decision.

Other launch sites in the United States, such as SpaceX's own pads at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, employ flame diverters: large cavernous hallways leading away from a rocket's underside to steer its tail of fiery forces in a controlled path, aimed at minimizing damage.

If debris was fired up during liftoff, the launch engineer said, debris could strike the rocket itself and compromise a mission.

Touchy landing pads are common on launch sites. Any little thing that goes wrong can cause a zipper effect that creates a giant problem, said Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida.

Then you're trying to safely dispose of enough super high energy gas to shoot a rocket into the sky. The latest failure of SpaceX showed a rocket development culture that embraces rapid tests and failures of prototypes that provide data to enhance the vehicle's design.

The biggest challenge for SpaceX is the FAA evaluating its steel plate solution and deciding that it meets the regulations in a timely manner, he said.