SpaceX has an immense force on its hands as it tries to send Starship-Super Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, into space.
In fact, the rocket is so powerful that its first launch in April created the equivalent of a volcanic eruption in the launchpad beneath it, according to Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida.
When the rocket lifted off, it blasted a giant hole in its launchpad and kicked up soil and sand that rained down up to five miles away.
“What we found was that it’s comparable to a volcanic explosion,” Metzger told WMFE’s Brendan Byrne.
That’s because the rocket’s array of Raptor engines blasted so much heat and pressure into the launchpad that the concrete pad cracked. Then gas plowed into those cracks and boom! Suddenly the next town over was getting seasoned with material from under the launchpad.
” The pressure under the launchpad was equivalent to that of a volcanic eruption, and the gas mixture with the rock material was similar to the volcano, Metzger explained.
SpaceX plans to launch Starship again this weekend, minus the volcano-like explosion
That first space-bound Starship launch ultimately ended with the rocket itself exploding in mid-air. It never got close to the edge of space.
SpaceX is trying again, with a second launch attempt scheduled for Saturday.
According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the company has made thousands of adjustments to the rocket since that explosive first attempt.
One upgrade was the launchpad. In a June live interview on X, Musk described the addition of a “water cooled steel sandwich” in the launchpad to make it more resistant to Raptor engines.
The pad has two steel plates and a deluge water system, which Musk described as “a giant upside-down rain shower.”
“It’s going to basically blast water upwards while the rocket is over the pad to counteract the massive amount of heat from the booster,” he said.
The launchpad is also now reinforced with 35,300 cubic feet of high-strength concrete, Business Insider previously reported.
“I think they’ve completely solved the problem,” Metzger told WMFE. “We should not have a repeat of the volcanic eruption under a launchpad again.”
Musk has roughly estimated that Starship has about a 60% chance of successfully reaching space this time.
Whatever happens, on Wednesday Musk made one promise to his followers online: “Excitement guaranteed.”