SpaceX issues a 'self-destruct zone' in the Gulf of Mexico in case Starship SN8's debut test flight fails

SpaceX issues a 'self-destruct zone' in the Gulf of Mexico in case Starship SN8's debut test flight fails

Images Source: @austinbarnard45 via Twitter / KRGV Channel 5 News

The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk envisions a fleet of Starships embarking on a voyage to Mars with hundreds of passengers. He sees colonizing the Red Planet as a ‘life insurance’ for the human species. –“If there's something terrible that happens on Earth, either made by humans or natural, we want to have, like, life insurance for life as a whole,” he said during the Humans To Mars conference in August.
SpaceX is developing a two-stage, stainless-steel Starship launch vehicle that will propel to orbit with a gigantic Super Heavy rocket. Prototypes of the spacecraft are undergoing testing at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility located in Boca Chica Beach, in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately twenty-minutes away from the city of Brownsville.

Engineers have successfully test launched a pair of twin Starship prototypes 150-meters above the sandy beach at Boca Chica this year. They are now preparing to launch a full-scale Starship prototype designated as ‘SN8’ (Serial No.8). It will be the first fully-assembled vehicle featuring a trio of Raptor engines and aerodynamic flaps that will be tested in-flight. Musk announced Starship SN8’s debut test flight could take place as soon as next week. –“… 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,” he stated.

Starship SN8 is expected to soar 50,000 feet into the sky, equivalent to 15-kilometers. SpaceX engineers plan to launch the vehicle and attempt to perform a ‘belly flop’ dive, then land it vertically on a nearby landing pad. When Dreaming of Mars Musk has ambitious goals for the Starship spacecraft but he has his feet well planted on terra firma with realistic expectations. A reporter asked Musk via Twitter, “How are you feeling about Starship’s chances of landing in one piece?” To which he responded, “Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance,” Musk said.


Developing a new spacecraft comes with many challenges. The company has destroyed a couple of stainless-steel prototypes during proof testing in the past. SpaceX has safety measures in place in case Starship SN8’s debut test flight fails. KRGV Channel 5 news, a local media outlet in South Texas, reports the United States Coast Guard is collaborating with SpaceX to prepare for an emergency situation. SpaceX provided a map to the Coast Guard called the “Self-destruct Zone,” located in the Gulf of Mexico along Boca Chica Beach (pictured below), “There is a good chance of failure on this test vehicle with debris falling into the ocean. We will need everyone to stay out of the self-destruct zone in case there is an incident,” Jason Cross, with the U.S. Coast Guard's Corpus Christi Sector told emergency responders in an e-mail obtained by KRGV Channel5.

Source: KRGV Channel 5

SpaceX’s Boca Chica self-destruct zone is an area in the ocean around 90-square-miles large, includes a portion near the Mexican border, and runs 1.5 miles close to South Padre Island, Texas. If Starship SN8 fails, engineers will allow the spacecraft debris to fall into that area in the ocean to avoid destroying any nearby property at Boca Chica village. Musk says that if Starship SN8’s flight does not go as planned he has the next prototypes ready –“But that’s why we have SN 9 & SN10,” he said. Starship SN9 and Starship SN10 are the next prototypes under assembly a couple of miles down the road from the launch pad. Musk said these two prototypes feature “many small improvements, but overall similar. Wiring is more robust, engines are more mature, nosecone is sealed better, etc,” he shared. Multiple Starships are under construction in South Texas; A high iteration rate enables the company to speed up the spacecraft’s development. SpaceX aims to develop a space-ready Starship by 2023 to launch the first private customer on a voyage around the Moon. 

According to Cameron County Boca Chica Beach closure announcements, SpaceX could attempt to perform Starship SN8’s debut test flight sometime on November 30th from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CST. Back-up launch opportunity dates are scheduled for December 1st and 2nd from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Time. You can watch SpaceX South Texas launch operations Live 24/7 in the video below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube. 



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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