It was an exciting week for space enthusiasts who witnessed SpaceX’s historic first Starship flight attempt to orbit. On April 20 at 8:33 a.m. CDT SpaceX launched the first-ever fully-integrated Starship from the Starbase launch site at Boca Chica Beach, Texas. Thousands of spectators gathered at nearby South Padre Island to watch the amazing flight test. The Super Heavy rocket soared into an altitude of around 39 kilometers powered by 33 powerful Raptor engines, capable of generating over 16.5 million pounds of thrust. Suddenly, multiple engines shut down unexpectedly, the vehicle started to tumble, lost altitude, and SpaceX decided to command the Flight Termination System (FTS) to cause the Starship and rocket to self-destruct with an explosion over the Gulf of Mexico ocean. The FTS was intentionally triggered to prevent the massive rocket-ship from potentially causing destruction on the ground. SpaceX immediately started “anomaly clean-up efforts” and Cameron County issued temporary road and beach closures to recover the stainless-steel vehicles’ fragments after the test flight. “With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems ... that will help us improve on future flights of Starship. Thank you to our customers, Cameron County, and the wider community for the continued support and encouragement. And congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first flight test of Starship!” the company stated.
4/20 View of SpaceX Starship first-ever launch attempt to orbit from Isla Blanca at South Padre Island, Texas. It was AMAZING!! Congrats on lifting off the Starbase launchpad!! @elonmusk @SpaceX— Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) April 20, 2023
via @Tesmanian_com pic.twitter.com/1tvT5vQSDn
A man found a piece of a Starship heat shield tile at South Padre Island. Joe Tegtmeyer told TESMANIAN he found the tile along the beach approximately 7 or 8 hours after Starship’s test flight. “Look what I found!” shared Tegtmeyer via Twitter at 6:30 p.m. CDT after the launch, alongside photographs of him holding the ceramic heat tile which is broken in half (pictured below). He found it around 7 miles away from Starbase –“Not sure when it departed the ship, but I would suspect more will wash ashore over the next few days,” he said. Tegtmeyer is a SpaceX and Tesla fan who has a YouTube channel where he shares frequent updates about the Tesla Giga Texas factory in Austin. He shared a video about finding the Starship heat shield tile where he mentions that SpaceX did contact him to ask him information about his finding. “[...] They were appreciative of the information and they allowed me to keep it,” he shared. “If anyone does find pieces, make sure you contact SpaceX,” he says. SpaceX issued a public advisory warning against attempting to handle or retrieve the debris directly, they encourage the public to call their ‘Debris Hotline’ to report findings. All the data they gather is useful for the company’s recovery and clean-up operations. Cameron County residents and visitors can either call 1-866-623-0234, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to report potential Starship debris.
For those wondering, I have talked directly with SpaceX and they asked me where I found it and approximately what time. This is the data they wanted and thanked me for my help. They did not request the tile back.— Joe Tegtmeyer 🚀 🤠😎 (@JoeTegtmeyer) April 23, 2023
On Starship tiles, Giga Texas and SpaceX pic.twitter.com/Hs0XU3vdHT— Joe Tegtmeyer 🚀 🤠😎 (@JoeTegtmeyer) April 24, 2023
Mr. Tegtmeyer shared that the heat shield appears to be made of "Ceramic composite with a stainless steel embedded frame with three mounting tabs. It’s not too heavy and floats," he said. The tile is part of Starship's Thermal Protection System (TPS) which is a collection of around 18,000 hexagonal ceramic tiles on one side of the craft (pictured below), also known as 'Starbricks.' The tiles are capable of withstanding extreme heat of over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 Kelvin). Because stainless-steel is already heat resistant, Starship only has a heat shield on one side for extra protection when it reenters Earth's atmosphere with the ‘belly-flop’ maneuver at high speed. The tiles are hexagonal to ensure there is no straight path through which hot gas could accelerate through the gaps. SpaceX is actively developing the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle and aims to perform another flight attempt as soon as it fixes the damage the powerful Raptor engines caused at the launch mount. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the next orbital flight attempt could take place in around one or two months. So, we could see the Starship heat shield be tested in-flight later this year when SpaceX achieves sending it to orbit and back. The company already has multiple rocket-ships at the Starbase factory built to perform the next test flights.
¤ 𝙎𝙏𝘼𝙍𝘽𝙍𝙄𝘾𝙆 ¤ Starship's Thermal Protection System (TPS) are hexagonal ceramic tiles capable of withstanding extreme heat of over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 Kelvin). Because stainless-steel is already heat resistant, Starship only has a heat shield on one side for… pic.twitter.com/0uYolmrkI8— Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) April 19, 2023
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Featured Images Source: @JoeTegtmeyer via Twitter / SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.