Tag Archives: HighAltitude

SpaceX Starship SN11 Blows Itself Apart During High-Altitude Test

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The in-development Starship rocket is key to SpaceX’s future plans, from lunar missions to Mars colonization. Elon Musk’s spaceflight company has been open with its Starship testing, even with the results haven’t been flattering. In the most recent test, the Starship SN11 reached an altitude of about eight kilometers, and then something went wrong. We don’t know exactly what happened yet, but the vessel came down in pieces. Musk quipped on Twitter that at least the crater was in the right place. Say what you will about Elon Musk, he’s pretty unflappable, even when his most ambitious aerospace project struggles to get off the ground. 

The Starship is being developed with reusability in mind like the Falcon 9. SpaceX envisions a fleet of reusable Starships that can take off, land, and then fly again after refueling. While it shares this property with the Falcon 9, the two devices don’t share hardware. The Starship is larger, made of different materials, and has new engines. 

SpaceX has thus far only succeeded in landing the rocket after a low altitude test. In the last flight, featuring SN10, the rocket flew high into the atmosphere, and then landed on the launch pad. It looked like everything would work out, but damage to the fuel system from the harder-than-expected landing led to an explosion several minutes later. The new SN11 flight looks like a step backward as it didn’t even reach the ground in one piece. 

The final image from the Starship (see above) live stream featured one of the craft’s three Raptor engines reigniting for the descent sequence. Contact with the vehicle was lost moments later. Musk said following the incident that the issue appeared to be with the number 2 engine, which didn’t reach operating pressure, but it shouldn’t have been needed to get the rocket on the ground safely. Something else, possibly related to the engine, occurred after the landing burn was supposed to start. However, SpaceX can’t begin to piece together the specifics until it can examine the debris later today. 

This failed test is one more potential setback for SpaceX’s aggressive timeline. Musk has said he hopes to fly a group of passengers, including Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, around the moon and back in 2023. He’s also pushed the idea that Starships could begin transporting Mars colonists in less than a decade, a timeline that most scientists consider unreasonable. Musk might not have a chance to convince everyone his vision is possible if the rocket doesn’t stop exploding.

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SpaceX Cancels Starship High-Altitude Test at Last Second

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SpaceX aims to send its upcoming Starship rocket to the moon, Mars, and beyond, but it’s a long way from those exotic destinations right now. The company’s long-awaited high-altitude test was scrubbed at literally the last second yesterday. SpaceX says the cancellation was due to abnormal readings from one of the rocket’s three Raptor engines. There are more potential launch windows coming up, but it’s unclear what went wrong and how long it’ll take to fix. 

SpaceX has gone through several prototype versions of the steel rocket once known as the Big Falcon Rocket. The renamed Starship currently exists as the SN8 (serial number 8), a vessel that previously aced a static fire test last month. Previous versions of the rocket have managed low-altitude flights before setting down on the launchpad, but the SN8 is set to be the first to rise to about 50,000 feet during its test flight. 

CEO Elon Musk expressed great confidence in the latest Starship prototype after the static fire test, noting that the company would attempt the test flight in a matter of days. When the time came yesterday (December 8th), the launch countdown was automatically aborted with about a second left. The error was apparently with one of the vessel’s three Raptor engines — the SN8 is the first version of the Starship with more than a single engine. The final version will have six Raptor engines. 

An earlier version of the Starship hovering above the ground before landing.

SpaceX has been mum on the exact cause of the abort, but there’s still a chance the Starship could take flight this week. There are possible launch windows today and tomorrow (December 9 and 10). However, if the issue proves too complex, SpaceX might need to push the test flight out to a later date. This is a necessary step on the way to orbital flight, so we expect the SN8 will eventually complete this “big hop” test. All previous Starship prototypes were either tethered to the ground or flew just a few hundred feet in the air before setting back down. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been talking a big game when it comes to the Starship’s future. He hopes to use this vessel to fly a Japanese billionaire around the moon in a couple of years, and he’s claimed the company could transport people to Mars in as little as four years. That seems very optimistic, and that would still be the case even without yesterday’s launch cancellation.

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SpaceX Plans High-Altitude Starship Test Next Week

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SpaceX is preparing for the next major milestone in the development of its next-gen Starship spacecraft. Following a successful static fire test this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced on Twitter that the company wants to perform a high-altitude test flight as early as next week. 

The Starship started its life as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) but now consists of the Starship and a heavy lift stage called Super Heavy. All the work SpaceX is doing right now is for the Starship itself, which is arguably the more important of the two components. The Starship will be able to land on and take off from places like the moon and Mars without Super Heavy. However, for Earth launches destined for the moon and beyond, SpaceX will need the Super Heavy. 

Thus far, SpaceX has conducted numerous engine tests, both static fire and in-flight. It started with the “Starhopper” prototype with a single Raptor engine. Later, it built full-scale versions of the Starship with a single Raptor but without the nose section. That made it look a bit like a flying grain silo, but that was a step up from the flying water tower Starhopper. 

The latest SN8 prototype looks more like a real rocket, and it has a trio of Raptor engines (the final version will have six). The static fire test (see below) went perfectly, and the company is now planning the first high-altitude test. According to a recent tweet from Elon Musk (it’s always a tweet) SpaceX plans to launch next week. The Starship will fly up to about 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) to test the engines, body flaps, and fuel tanks. Following the test, the Starship will descend and land (hopefully) in one piece. Locals near SpaceX’s Boca Chica testing facility have been alerted to a possible launch on Monday, November 30, so that’s probably it barring weather issues. 

Eventually, SpaceX hopes to replace the Falcon 9 with the Starship for all missions. Although, it took years for the Falcon 9 to get certification to carry passengers, and the Starship is still in development. Whenever it’s ready for flight, SpaceX has committed to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon. The projected 2023 launch date for that mission is probably very optimistic, but that’s par for the course with the Starship. Musk has also talked about using the vehicle to plant a human colony on Mars as soon as the mid-2020s. Most experts agree it’s unlikely you could safely send humans to Mars so soon, even if the Starship is finished on schedule.

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