Tag Archives: SN11

Musk Blames Starship SN11 Failure on Methane Fuel Leak

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We’ve been treated to a series of spectacular rocket tests lately, courtesy of SpaceX and the Starship development process. Of course, most of these rockets are exploding, but that only makes the tests more dramatic for outside observers. The most recent Starship rocket blew up in mid-air while beginning its landing burn. Now, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced a cause: a leaky pipe. We’ve all been there. 

The Starship SN11 prototype took off from the company’s Boca Chica launch facility on March 30th, heading for a high-altitude test and soft landing. After reaching 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) high, it flipped and prepared for descent. The live video feed, to which we’ve become accustomed in SpaceX launches, froze as one of the engines fired. Minutes later, debris from the Starship booster rained down on the landing zone. As Musk quipped at the time, “At least the crater is in the right place.”

The company has been examining telemetry data and the wreckage to find out what happened, and Musk now blames a leak from the fuel system. Apparently, a small amount of methane escaped and started a fire on engine 2. The rocket had three total engines, and it would have been able to reach the ground with two. However, the fire fried some avionics hardware, causing a “hard start” in the engine’s methane turbopump. A hard start means there’s too much fuel in the combustion chamber, and therefore the pressure is too high, and the engine goes boom. 

Musk says this flaw has been corrected by SpaceX engineers, and future versions of the Starship booster will be “fixed 6 ways from Sunday.” So, if anything destroys SN12 or later, it’ll be something else. 

SpaceX is unusual among aerospace companies in that it puts its development on display for everyone to see. That’s worked out well when the company has advanced so quickly. A few years ago, landing the Falcon 9 for reuse seemed like a crazy fantasy, but the technology to do that exists now. Getting the Starship to do the same thing could take a bit longer than Elon Musk would like everyone to believe, but SpaceX isn’t giving up. 

In addition to working to perfect the Starship, the company has also started work on Super Heavy, the first stage with 28 Raptor engines that will help the Starship break free of Earth’s gravity. Currently, SpaceX plans to use the Starship to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon and back in 2023. It’s got some work to do before that can happen.

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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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