Musk says methane leak doomed latest Starship test flight – Spaceflight Now

File photograph of the Starship SN8 prototype, which flew final yr, with three Raptor engines. Credit score: Elon Musk/SpaceX

SpaceX founder Elon Musk stated Monday {that a} “comparatively small” methane prompted the explosion of the corporate’s newest Starship take a look at rocket final week on an flight over South Texas.

The 164-foot-tall (50-meter) Starship take a look at automobile, referred to as Serial No. 11, took off from SpaceX’s growth facility close to Brownsville on March 30 for an take a look at flight to an altitude of about 33,000 ft, or 10,000 meters.

Three Raptor engines, every consuming super-chilled methane and liquid oxygen propellants, powered the stainless-steel rocket off its launch mount with greater than one million kilos of thrust.

After climbing straight up above a dense layer of fog, the Starship shut down every of the Raptor engines in sequence, as deliberate, earlier than pitching over horizontally to start a managed descent again to the bottom. Aerodynamic flaps helped stabilize the enormous automobile because it fell again to Earth earlier than the Raptor engines have been alleged to reignite and flip the rocket again vertical for landing on a touchdown pad subsequent to the Starship’s launch web site.

Dense fog prevented clear views of what occurred, however an on-board digital camera view on SpaceX’s reside webcast froze because the Raptor engines fired up for touchdown. Different digital camera views confirmed particles showering the take a look at web site, which Musk calls Starbase, after a thundering growth crackled throughout the power.

Mild particles fragments from the Starship apparently traveled so far as 5 miles (eight kilometers) from the launch web site and landed in a public viewing space, though the fabric could have been shed from the rocket because it climbed towards the apex of its trajectory, and never throughout the explosion simply earlier than touchdown.

Musk tweeted Monday that the part of the Starship SN11 take a look at flight went in keeping with . The transition to horizontal and management throughout its free fall again to Earth have been additionally , he stated.

However a small methane leak led to a hearth on one of many automobile’s Raptor engines and “fried” a part of an avionics . That prompted a “laborious begin” within the engine’s methane turbopump originally of the touchdown burn, Musk stated.

“That is getting mounted six says to Sunday,” Musk tweeted.

The explosion March 30 was the fourth Starship automobile in a row SpaceX has misplaced since high-altitude take a look at flights in December.

A tough touchdown on an otherwise-successful Dec. 9 Starship take a look at flight was attributable to low stress from header tanks feeding the automobile’s Raptor engines for the crucial burn simply earlier than landing, and one of many Raptor engines didn’t reignite for the touchdown burn on a take a look at flight Feb. 2.

The SN10 rocket achieved the primary mushy touchdown of a full-size Starship automobile on the finish of a March three take a look at flight, however the rocket exploded minutes later.

SpaceX is growing the Starship automobile as the corporate’s next-generation rocket and crew and cargo transporter to finally change the Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon capsule. The Starship automobile now being examined in Texas will type the higher stage of the enormous new rocket, which can stand practically 400 ft (about 120 meters) tall with the Starship stacked on high of an enormous booster stage.

The total-size rocket configured for orbital missions may have 28 Raptor engines on its first stage, and 6 Raptor engines on the Starship higher stage. SpaceX says will probably be able to delivering greater than 220,000 kilos, or 100 metric tons, of payload mass to low Earth orbit.

As soon as in orbit, the Starship will be capable of obtain a recent provide of methane and liquid oxygen propellants to proceed on and carry its heavy cargo — and finally folks — to extra distant locations, such because the moon and Mars, in keeping with SpaceX

The booster stage, referred to as the Tremendous Heavy, and the Starship automobile will likely be totally reusable to restrict launch prices.

However first SpaceX must grasp the Starship touchdown maneuver, which is way totally different than the way in which SpaceX lands its operational Falcon rocket boosters. SpaceX additionally plans to start take a look at flights of the primary Tremendous Heavy booster prototypes.

Starship SN11 earlier than its March 30 take a look at flight. Credit score: SpaceX

SpaceX’s subsequent Starship rocket, designated SN15, is getting ready to roll out from its meeting hangar on the take a look at web site close to Boca Chica Seashore in South Texas. As soon as it’s on the launch pad, SpaceX engineers will run via a sequence of checkouts, and certain try a fueling take a look at and a hold-down test-firing earlier than continuing to a take a look at flight.

The Starship advanced is positioned a few miles inland from the launch and touchdown pads.

SpaceX skipped constructing SN12, SN13, and SN14 in favor of an up to date Starship configuration that may with SN15.

“It has a whole bunch of design enhancements throughout constructions, avionics/software program & engine,” Musk tweeted tweeted final week. “Hopefully, a kind of enhancements covers this downside (with SN11). If not, then retrofit will add a number of extra days.”

SpaceX goals to launch the primary fully-stacked Tremendous Heavy and Starship in on an orbital launch try from South Texas in . “That’s our aim,” Musk tweeted.

An orbital launch try by July is an aggressive aim, like many schedules outlined by SpaceX’s hard-charging founder and chief govt.

The following main expertise replace to the Starship automobile will include SN20 later this yr, in keeping with Musk.

“These ships will likely be orbit-capable with warmth protect & stage separation system,” Musk tweeted. “Ascent success chance is excessive. Nonetheless, SN20+ automobiles will in all probability want many flight makes an attempt to outlive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact.”

SpaceX has stacked the primary Tremendous Heavy booster testbed, referred to as BN1, on the South Texas launch web site. However Musk stated that automobile is a pathfinder to check out manufacturing and manufacturing strategies, and won’t fly. Groups are constructing the second Tremendous Heavy prototype — BN2 — for atmospheric take a look at flights earlier than continuing with building of BN3 for a possible orbital launch try.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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