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SpaceX's modified Starship stage separation

SpaceX has overhauled the Starship rocket's two-stage separation to ignite upper engines while still attached, improving performance. The unconventional technique, adapted from legacy Russian and American rockets, boosts payload capacity approximately 10% according to Elon Musk.

Starship originally followed a conventional tandem staging approach. After first stage separation, the second stage fired separately to continue ascent. However, since the first test flight, SpaceX redesigned the process for the next launch.

The new system lights Starship's six upper Raptor engines before separating from the Super Heavy booster. To facilitate this, SpaceX added a domed steel shield ring to protect Super Heavy from engine exhaust. Recently installed and tested, the reinforced ring includes side vents for venting.

Unclear which second stage engines will ignite first, three Raptors sit center-mounted near the dome while the others are outward-located. The beefed-up ring withstands engine forces until staging.

Beyond stage modifications, SpaceX made over 1,000 design tweaks to improve performance and reduce Raptor leaks. The FAA received the final report on the first Starship test launch, advancing towards a second attempt likely in late 2022.

Adapting proven superpositioned engine ignition demonstrates SpaceX's drive to constantly refine Starship's capabilities. While the concept dates back decades, its modern implementation exemplifies their relentless innovation.

Each enhancement edges Starship closer to revolutionizing space transportation through full reusability. By standing on the shoulders of those before them while forging new paths, SpaceX continues pushing boundaries to extend humanity's reach.

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