SpaceX Delays Starship SN11's Flight Test For 'Additional Checkouts'

SpaceX Delays Starship SN11's Flight Test For 'Additional Checkouts'

Featured Image Source: SpaceX

SpaceX planned to launch another shiny stainless-steel Starship prototype in South Texas today (March 26). Early morning, engineers performed a static-fire test of the Starship SN11 vehicle at the Boca Chica Beach launch pad. During the ignition test, engineers fueled SN11 with cryogenic methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX) then briefly fired the three Raptor engines to assess their performance as SN11 remained grounded to the launch pad. After the test was completed, engineers proceeded to prepare the vehicle to conduct a flight test. Boca Chica Beach residents were soon evacuated which suggested the static-firing data was nominal and SpaceX was ready to perform a flight test this afternoon.

Dozens of space enthusiasts gathered across the ocean at Isla Blanca Park, situated at South Padre Island, to watch the launch from approximately 5-miles away, pictured below. However, unfavorable weather conditions made Starship SN11 invisible due to extreme fog and cloudy skies in the area. SpaceX has performed three high-altitude flight tests that were visible to the naked eye from that location. SpaceX founder Chief Engineer Elon Musk later announced via Twitter that they delayed Starship SN11’s flight test, “Standing down SN11 until probably Monday. Additional checkouts are needed. Doing our best to land & fully recover,” he said. “As early as Monday, March 29, the SpaceX team will attempt a high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 11 (SN11) – our fourth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas," the company said this evening.


Similar to previous high-altitude flight tests of Starship, SN11 will be powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km [kilometers] in altitude. SN11 will perform a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent," SpaceX said, "The Starship prototype will descend under active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on the vehicle. All four flaps are actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location. SN11’s Raptor engines will then reignite as the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately before touching down on the landing pad adjacent to the launch mount.” The previous prototype, Starship SN10, was the first fully-assembled vehicle that successfully landed after performing an  aerodynamic flight and landing-flip-maneuver but soon after performing a propulsive landing SN10 exploded. According to Musk, it exploded because an engine was "low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank. Impact of 10m/s [meters per second] crushed legs & part of skirt. Multiple fixes in work for SN11," he said earlier this month. SpaceX aims to launch, land, and 'fully recover' SN11 without issues. To increase the likelihood of a successful flight happening, engineers will perform additional checkouts over the weekend. 

“A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth,” the company said, “This capability will enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”


About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn 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.

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