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The first test flight would be a great chance to test vertical landing controls in the 'first stage' and maybe save some engines for after the flight examination.

Source: CNN "Less than three minutes after takeoff, it’s expected to expend its fuel and separate from the Starship spacecraft, leaving the booster to be discarded in the ocean."

enter image description here

please support

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    $\begingroup$ @TheMatrixEquation-balance you’ve asked a question on a false premise without citing where you got the information. Is it any wonder that it may have attracted downvotes for “does not show research”? I didn’t personally downvote but only because I found a potentially misleading article about the launch. And you specifically asked about the first stage which is planning on soft-ish landing (as per Erin’s answer) and not the second stage which will not (as per GremlinWranger’s answer). Also: people should be voting on this question’s merits, not in relation to how it affects you $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @fyrepenguin - If you don't care, maybe someone else on this site does. And regarding the question, I can only guess that cancelation of the vertical landing exercise for Super Heavy was due to FAA negotiations/pressure. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ maybe go to primary sources first, like SpaceX's website, instead of bad summaries written by news reporters? Using primary sources may also serve you in your academic pursuits. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 19, 2023 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ it is never okay to replace your question with an entirely new one. it is especially not ok to do that after answers were supplied and accepted. shame $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 23, 2023 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMatrixEquation-balance why can't you ask a question? might you be temporarily banned from asking questions on the site for some reason? if so, then respect the ban and wait $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 24, 2023 at 2:28

2 Answers 2

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Just to back up Christopher James Huff's comment, the timeline and graphics on SpaceX's Starship Flight Test page both indicate a soft-landing attempt for Super Heavy.

From the flight infographic on that page:

SpaceX-produced infographic showing Super Heavy Descent and Water Landing (Gulf of Mexico)

And from the timeline on that page:

Hr/Min/Sec Event
...
00:07:40 Booster Landing Burn Startup
00:08:03 Booster Landing Burn Shutdown

The FAA Written Re-Evaluation of the 2022 Final Programmatic Envrionmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas also confirms this (on page 6):

After descent through the atmosphere, Super Heavy would conduct a landing burn, which would cutoff at approximately the ocean’s surface, and then impact the water. After the landing burn ends, the flight plan is for Super Heavy to impact the water intact vertically.

(The rest of that paragraph is very fun; I recommend reading that document.)

Not sure why you thought they weren't going to try.

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    $\begingroup$ This Space.com article could lead one to believe otherwise $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ “both vehicles will splash down in the ocean rather than make vertical, powered landings on terra firma or a "drone ship," as the first stages of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets commonly do.” They do mention that Booster 7 is meant to relight the engines to bring it back towards Boca Chica, but not that it’s attempting a soft landing (other than in the caption to the infographic) $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ @fyrepenguin well...that's space.com for ya. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 19, 2023 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, for sure. Just showing where I could see someone being led astray, if they (like y’know most people) haven’t read through the FAA evaluation and detailed plan. Not sure where the OP got his information since he didn’t cite where he’d read about it though …. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ The actual livestream for the landing also had an animation of the intended flight, including a powered landing of the booster at sea: youtube.com/watch?v=-1wcilQ58hI&t=600s $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2023 at 22:53
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Edit: Incorrectly answered with information about the Starship vehicle. ErinAnne's answer here correctly answers the question which is about the Super Heavy first stage. Please upvote that one and if required re-assess your vote here.


The updated Environmental Assessment for the first three Starship/Superheavy launches is here.

While it does not give a specific reason for hard landing the Starship a repeating thread through the document is:

  1. That all debris will quickly sink and not become a hazard to navigation
  2. That any impact explosions will be small enough not to harm sea life

The current plan ensures both by doing a terminal velocity impact following re-entry with the minimal propellant load for stability (specifically calls out venting down to this amount on page 6).

A full successful soft landing will produce a navigation hazard that SpaceX would need to plan recovery and disposal of. A failed soft landing might impact the ocean with a much higher fuel load and resultant explosion.

Given the concerns around re-entry damaging Starship SpaceX may have chosen this route as one that is easier to get approval for since a 'damaged in re-entry' produces results pretty close to the planned one, and avoids needing to hire a large recovery fleet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Even with the much smaller Falcon 9, if I remember correctly, SpaceX had to call in the US Navy to help them sink one of the soft-splashed ones. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2023 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ Starship is supposed to do a terminal velocity impact, but Super Heavy (the subject of OP's question) is supposed to soft-land. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 19, 2023 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinAnne yes and I made a leaping assumption and spent time trying to find an answer to the wrong question. Will edit. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2023 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinAnne I also see I found the same page of the same report in answering this as you did, would have been rather smarter of me if I'd just clicked your helpful link rather than heading off on a wild goose chase all of my own. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2023 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ yeah I went looking for that after Scott Manley featured it in a video. Wonderful document $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 20, 2023 at 13:22

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