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SpaceX Finds Cause Of Starship SN11’s Explosion During High-Altitude Flight Test

SpaceX Finds Cause Of Starship SN11’s Explosion During High-Altitude Flight Test

Featured Image Source: Starship SN9 / Tesmanian.com 

Last week, SpaceX’s Starship SN11 prototype performed a high-altitude flight test above Boca Chica Beach, Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. SN11 soared 10-kilometers under very dense fog and cloudy skies, causing its flight path to be nearly invisible. The stainless-steel vehicle propelled into the sky powered by a trio of methane-fueled (CH4) Raptor engines, which shutdown to perform an aerodynamic flight, as planned. However, before attempting a propulsive landing, SN11 exploded under the fog. The Raptor engines are capable of producing over a million pounds of thrust.
After the flight test, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said “A high production rate solves many ills,” he wrote via Twitter after SN11 failed landing, “At least the crater is in the right place!” he joked. – “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…” he added. Cameron County published a SpaceX ‘Debris Hotline' contact information on its website for Boca Chica village residents who encounter any piece, they can either E-mail SpaceX at recovery@spacex.com or call 1-866-623-0234. So that the company can recover the debris. Source: https://www.cameroncounty.us/spacex/

This week, Musk shared SpaceX found the cause of Starship SN11’s explosion during the high-altitude flight test. He said that SN11’s “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 said on Monday evening. The explosion was caused by a methane leak which engineers will try to avoid for the next prototype that will take flight. “This is getting fixed 6 ways to Sunday,” Musk stated. Starship SN15 is undergoing pre-flight preparations ahead of a flight test. Engineers skipped the production of Starship SN12 through SN14 because SN15 features “hundreds of design improvements” meant to avoid the explosive finales all the previous test vehicles have experienced. “SN15 rolls to launch pad in a few days. It has hundreds of design improvements across structures, avionics/software & engine,” Musk said.

 

Starship SN15 is already assembled inside a giant high bay at the Starbase rocket factory, pictured above. The company could transport the vehicle to the launch pad down Highway 4 as soon as next week. In the meantime, SpaceX transported a stainless-steel Ground Support Equipment (GSE) tank, referred to as GSE Tank 1, to the launch site, where the first orbital launch tower is under construction, pictured below. By July, SpaceX hopes to have a launch tower ready to conduct the first Starship orbital flight test. The prototype in the series that will attempt a flight to space will be SN20, according to Musk. “Those ships will be orbit-capable with heat shield & stage separation system. Ascent success probability is high. However, SN20+ vehicles will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact,” Musk said.

 

 



 

Featured Image Source: Starship SN9 / Tesmanian.com 

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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