Starship SN11 Explodes

Image of Starship SN9 before its launch by Jared Krahn, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

Bitcoin is all about the advance of technology. It is the cutting edge in field of money. But SpaceX is the parallel to bitcoin in the space industry. The company is doing what no company would have dreamed of doing before. It lands rockets vertically and reuses them. Its newest creation is the Starship rocket and its boosting, the Super Heavy. We would like to tell you about it so that you can learn about the future of spaceflight.

The long awaited launch of the SpaceX rocket known as Starship Serial Number 11 took place this morning. Unfortunately, it exploded. NASA Spaceflight called it an ‘anomaly during the landing process’, but it was a little more drastic. It was a complete and total explosion of the rocket. Lift off occurred just after 9:00 AM Eastern Time, and it exploded around 9:06 AM. But let’s back up and talk about the rocket, the two scrubbed launches of the same vehicle, and the amazing conditions around the launch.

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What is Starship?

Starship is the upper stage of the rocket that will take us to the moon, and Mars. It is the vehicle that will power the Dearmoon project too. Starship will sit on top of the yet to be constructed super heavy booster. Here is an illustration to show you:

Image of Starship in front and the Super Heavy booster behind. Image by SpaceX, donated into the public domain by the author.

There have been many design iterations of this system. SpaceX moves fast. But, in each design, both pieces of the puzzle are massive. Here is a diagram that shows the latest version of the Starship and Super Heavy assembly:

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Image by Thorenn, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

The Particulars

Let’s give you some numbers. As you can see, the entire rocket is 120 meters tall, or 394 feet. The Starship portion is 50 meters (164 ft) tall and 9 meters (30 ft) wide (SpaceX). That is pretty giant. It alone has more volume that Falcon 9. And the Super Heavy booster is 72 meters (236 ft) tall. That is more than the Falcon Heavy! The booster has 28 raptor engines, 17 million pounds of thrust. That is in comparison to Falcon Nine’s 1.7 million pounds and the current largest rocket ever, the Saturn V, at 7.6 million pounds. Starship alone has six raptor engines, totaling 2.7 million pounds of thrust (Wikipedia). At least, it will have six in the final version. The Starship prototypes that have been launched so far have only three raptors because they are only going up to around fifty thousand feet. That is an overview.

An amazing thing is that both stages of the rocket are fully reusable, and both will be able to land upright in the future. Elon Musk wants to have the rocket be able to turn around and launch again as fast as an airliner. He is ambitious.

SpaceX has been testing Starship prototypes for a few months. Serial Number 9 (SN9) exploded upon landing due to a problem with the engines not reigniting, according to NASA Spaceflight. Serial Number 10 landed safely but then exploded a few minutes later due to a problem with engine depressurization, also according to NASA Spaceflight. SN11’s explosion does not fit into this picture.

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SN11’s Launch is Scrubbed Twice

The launch of SN11 was scheduled for Friday afternoon, the 26th. But then, it was scrubbed (canceled) because engineers wanted to run more tests, according to NASA Spaceflight. It was a little foggy, but there was still good visibility. I thought that it was because of the weather at first, but it was not. Then, SN11’s launch was canceled on Monday too, because the FAA inspector could not get there on time.

That was disappointing. Then, the launch was scheduled for 8 AM Starbase time. Starbase is the launching point for Starship, and is in Boca Chica, Texas. It is in Central Time, making the launch scheduled for 9 AM Eastern Time. But there was a problem. There was so much fog at Starbase. From just a few hundred feet away, the Starship was invisible due to the thick fog. I would never want to launch a rocket in such conditions. They couldn’t even see the launchpad! But SpaceX didn’t care. It turns out that they would launch a rocket in any weather condition.

The Launch and Explosion

At 9AM, the rocket lifted off. You can watch the video here. Liftoff occurs at 2:14:30. The explosion occurs at 2:20:40:

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This is the full livestream.

The liftoff and flight were pretty successful, considering the fog. The sideways descent also looked good. But the problem occurred right after the engines ignited. To me, it looks like they lit well. But something went wrong, and the ship slammed into the ground and blew up. You can see the fragments flying around the camera in the video above. It wasn’t good. Musk tried to add humor to the occasion, and it was a little funny.

It is unclear what the next step for SpaceX is. This rocket design has exploded too many times, and this time there is no reasonable explanation. But, it is safe to say that the next Starship to fly will have had many improvements made to it, partly because the company is skipping from SN11 to SN15. SpaceX needs to get this right soon if the Dearmoon project is to fly around the moon by 2023. And I have faith that it will. I am excited to see what comes next.

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