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.
Ascent phase, transition to horizontal & control during free fall were good.
A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine 2 & fried part of avionics, causing hard start attempting landing burn in CH4 turbopump.
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.
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.
Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed.
Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.
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.
SpaceX has been working on its new heavy-lift rocket for the past few years, and the company has been good enough to stream all of the tests live. Naturally, we’ve seen the Starship blow up a few times because space is hard. Most recently, the Starship SN10 prototype landed after its high-altitude test flight only to explode a few minutes later. Now we know a bit about why that happened and how SpaceX aims to solve this problem with SN11.
Like the Falcon 9, SpaceX intends to make the Starship a reusable vehicle. That means the vessel has the ability to land vertically either on a floating platform or on a standard launchpad. However, SpaceX is still working out the kinks there. The SN8 and SN9 prototypes also failed the reusability test, but in much more dramatic fashion. SN10 looked like it was doing fine after it touched down, which made the ensuing explosion all the more perplexing.
According to CEO Elon Musk on Twitter, the SN10 was actually going slightly too fast when it landed. At ten meters per second, the impact was enough to crush the legs and part of the skirt. This damage led to the explosion several minutes later. SpaceX crew members were seen fiddling with the SN11 rocket at the company’s Boca Chica test facility. They lowered each landing leg and tested them to make sure they deploy correctly. It’s unclear if they’ve been reinforced because of the SN10 test.
SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank. Impact of 10m/s crushed legs & part of skirt. Multiple fixes in work for SN11.
Musk says SN10 landed hard because it was most likely in low thrust mode due to helium ingestion from the fuel tank header. This pressurization system was added to SN10 on Musk’s order to compensate for an issue with SN8. He says it seemed like a good idea at the time, which is fair — no one has done this stuff before. He also floated the idea of landing on a net or a bouncy castle but lamented those options are not sufficiently dignified.
SpaceX intends to make the Starship its primary rocket in the future, taking on roles like orbital launches, Earth transport, and Mars colonization. Musk has continued promoting an aggressive timeline for all these plans, but the Starship is far from finished. Even when all the Starship kinks have been worked out, the company still has to build the Super Heavy first stage that will help the Starship get out of Earth’s gravity. The first crewed launch will most likely be the lunar orbit demo with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. SpaceX currently projects that will happen in 2023, which is a very ambitious timeline.
SpaceX is running through Starship prototypes like they’re growing on trees. Just a few weeks after its last rocket exploded following a hard landing, the company succeeded in landing a Starship rocket after its test flight. Sadly, the vessel exploded several minutes later. SpaceX hasn’t talked about the cause of the incident, but it does seem to consider the SN10 flight an overall success despite what transpired after.
All of SpaceX’s current launch operations are based on the Falcon 9, which is certified to carry even astronauts into space. It’s also the basis for the company’s Falcon Heavy launch platform. Elon Musk’s future plans require something a bit more powerful, which is the Starship. This megarocket will have enough power to send large payloads to Mars, an essential tool in Musk’s plan to colonize the red planet.
First, the Starship has to show it can lift off and land like the Falcon 9. This is essential to SpaceX’s plans for reusability. The latest test features SN10, the tenth piece of Starship prototype hardware. The goal was to reach an altitude of about six miles (10 kilometers) before dropping back down for a soft (non-explosive) landing.
At first, everything went perfectly. The Rocket completed its “flip sequence” when the rocket ignites its engines and rotates to point them downward. In the last test, the rocket overcompensated and crashed into the ground. This time, the maneuver went off without a hitch. There’s even an amazing telephoto shot of the vessel from below as it swung around (see above).
It was several minutes later when the vessel suddenly detonated. The source of the blast appeared to be from the bottom of the rocket where the three Raptor engines are. The force launched SN10 back into the air briefly, but there didn’t look to be a secondary explosion when the craft fell back to Earth. So, SpaceX engineers might still be able to learn something from the wreckage.
While SpaceX would no doubt have preferred SN10 didn’t blow up, its Starship testing is still moving in the right direction. Each one does a little better, and the company says that SN11 is already under construction. After working out the kinks in the Starship, SpaceX still has to get the Heavy Lift first stage operational. This will be necessary for long-range missions like going to Mars and the Moon.
SpaceX was forced to delay its recent Starship rocket launch, but the issue with the Raptor engines was sorted out in time for the second launch window yesterday (December 9th) afternoon. The launch itself went off without a hitch, sending the vessel up to 41,000 feet. That’s a major milestone for the Starship, but the landing… well, that was more of a crash. SpaceX is still calling this one a win, though.
Previous versions of the in-development Starship have only managed very short hops at no more than a few hundred feet above the ground. The SN8 prototype that flew yesterday had three Raptor engines for the first time, allowing it to get much higher. That part of the mission was no problem — in fact, everything was just fine until the very end of the flight.
There are precious few reusable rockets in the world, and none of them are as large as the Starship. Still, the plan is to land Starship cores in the same way as the Falcon 9, and that was part of the test flight. As the SN8 Starship came down, it performed a flip maneuver to get its engines pointed at the ground. The 160-foot rocket is by far the largest spacecraft to ever perform such a maneuver. Even though the flip is followed almost immediately by an explosion, SpaceX still took the opportunity to show off that flip.
As for the crash, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the rocket experienced low fuel header tank pressure. That caused it to come down faster than expected. The hard landing was enough to rupture the tanks and blow the Starship SN8 to smithereens. There’s no doubt SpaceX would prefer the rocket didn’t blow up, but everyone seems to be taking this one in stride. After all, SpaceX builds these prototypes with the expectation they’ll all fail at some point, and it’s letting us watch. Musk says SpaceX gathered all the data it needed from the test, and it will continue testing with the SN9 prototype in the near future.
Eventually, SpaceX hopes to transition all its launch operations to the Starship, previously known as the BFR or Big Falcon Rocket. It will be able to fly to even the most challenging Earth orbits, as well as the moon, Mars, and beyond. In fact, Musk hopes to use the Starship to colonize Mars starting as little as four years from now. That’s maybe looking a bit less plausible following the explosive end of yesterday’s test, but the Starship is still an incredible piece of engineering even at this stage.
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.
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.
Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week. Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.
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.
SpaceX has a good thing going with the Falcon 9. It has almost perfected landings, allowing it to reuse the boosters, and NASA has certified the Falcon 9 to carry its most important cargo and even astronauts. The company is already looking toward its next launch platform, though. After blowing up a few Starship prototypes, the latest SN5 test vehicle just completed a full-duration static fire. CEO Elon Musk says that sets the stage for a “hop” in the near future.
The Starship, previously known as the BFR, is SpaceX’s upcoming all-purpose rocket. With the Super Heavy launch platform, Starship will be a heavy-lift system capable of sending large payloads into the outer solar system. Musk has also floated the Starship to colonize Mars in the next few years. Of course, Musk does tend to over-promise — he thought the Starship would be flying by spring. Instead, SpaceX is just now starting to plan the vessel’s maiden flight.
Last year, we watched as SpaceX flew the first rocket with a Raptor engine, the so-called “Starhopper.” It was essentially a stub of the eventual Starship capable of lifting off with a single engine, hovering 150 meters in the air, and then landing. The goal is to make the Starship fully reusable like the Falcon 9. Musk has claimed that a Starship launch might cost as little as $ 2 million once it’s in full production, which is significantly less than other rockets. The ESA’s Ariane 5 costs $ 165 million per launch, and the Atlas V is $ 110 million.
A rendering of what the Starship could look like in space.
The SN5 prototype is the latest version of the rocket, but it’s not a final configuration — you can think of it as the mid-point between the Starhopper and a real Starship. Assuming tragedy does not befall this rocket, it could complete the proposed 150-meter flight in the next week or two. Even if something does go wrong and the SN5 is lost, SpaceX has two more prototypes in production — the SN6 and SN8. The SN7 was a small-scale test tank that the company discarded after it sprung a leak during testing in June 2020.
Starship SN5 just completed full duration static fire. 150m hop soon.
SpaceX also hopes the SN5 will be the first version of the Starship to complete a high-altitude test flight to around 12 miles (20 kilometers). The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will continue handling all of SpaceX’s launch operations for the time being, but Starship development is progressing at a surprising pace.
SpaceX has made the Falcon 9 the heart of its launch operations, sending both cargo and now people into space. However, the private spaceflight company plans to transition its operations to its Starship rocket in the future. Developing that craft has been slow going, though. Just a month after nailing a pressurization test, the Starship SN4 prototype exploded during an engine test. It’s not clear what happened, but CEO Elon Musk has offered some hints.
The Starship will eventually have enough power to send large payloads to destinations in the outer solar system, but first SpaceX needs to get the kinks worked out. The company ran through a few prototypes trying to pass a “cryo” pressurization test that simulates full fuel tanks in the vacuum of space. The fourth vessel (SN4) was the first to pass that test in late April.
The Starship explosion happened late on Friday, the day before arguably SpaceX’s biggest success yet when it successfully launched astronauts to the International Space Station. Of course, the Starship and Falcon 9 are separate projects and the explosion did not affect NASA’s launch timetable. The rocket was supposed to remain stationary and ignite its engines, known as a static fire test. The team completed that test, but the rocket began releasing clouds of vapor shortly afterward. The explosion takes place at about 1:24 in the video below.
Following the historic Falcon 9 launch, a Reuters reporter managed to ask Musk about the Starship incident. “What we thought was going to be a minor test of a quick disconnect ended up being a big problem,” Musk said. That seemingly confirms speculation that the problem had to do with the rocket’s ground support equipment, specifically the quick disconnect umbilical.
The quick disconnect is an apparatus that connects to the bottom of the rocket to load fuel and relay telemetry. It’s designed to quickly detach from the Starship during launch. It’s likely the “test” Musk referred to was assessing the ability of the quick disconnect module to disconnect and reconnect. In the process, it may have leaked fuel that then ignited.
SpaceX is currently manufacturing three more Starship prototypes. The first of those will have three Raptor engines, allowing it to perform a high-altitude test flight. SpaceX’s plans for the other prototypes are unknown at this time. They’ll probably all mate with a redesigned quick disconnect panel that doesn’t cause explosions.
SpaceX is gearing up for its first crewed flight for NASA with the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft, but Elon Musk’s spaceflight firm is also planning for the future with the Starship. This vessel, previously known as the BFR, is an extremely ambitious project that will eventually give SpaceX enough power to venture to the outer solar system. First, it has to remain intact during pressure testing, something the latest SN4 vehicle has finally achieved.
The Starship is still in the early phases of construction and testing. Last year, SpaceX successfully tested the “Starhopper” prototype with one of the company’s new Raptor engines. However, the full-scale prototypes haven’t fared well in pressure testing. SN1 blew its top in February, and both SN2 and SN3 suffered similar fates during the “cryo” testing phase, which simulates a full-pressure tank in the vacuum of space. SN4 is the first version of the rocket to survive that test.
The success of the SN4 prototype is a big step forward for the Starship program. The next step is to set up a static fire test with a single Raptor engine on the SN4. That could happen as soon as next week. Assuming it’s still in one piece, SpaceX will then conduct a brief flight up to 500 feet (150 meters) before setting down. Elon Musk says that the next variant (predictably called SN5) will feature the full-scale tank and a trio of Raptor engines. The final design calls for six Raptor engines on the Starship and a further 37 of them on the Super Heavy stage.
SpaceX has big plans for the Starship. Along with its Super Heavy launch stage, the Starship will be able to carry large payloads to Mars and beyond. Musk even promises Mars colonization programs with the Starship. The spacecraft will also be able to send smaller missions to the outer planets, something that was previously only possible with government-operated launch platforms.
It will probably take several more versions of the Starship before the craft is ready for orbital flight, and that says nothing about the Super Heavy platform. The rocket will need that extra boost to reach distant places like the Moon and Mars. Eventually, SpaceX will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa on a trip around the moon. Musk has been hesitant to put a date on that with the recent setbacks, but previous reports pegged 2023 for the launch.