SpaceX determines cause of Starship SN11 prototype crash


SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained why the Starship SN11 prototype caught fire last week.

In a tweet Monday, the billionaire responded to a SpaceX-themed Twitter account asking how the investigation was going into the “unscheduled quick teardown” of SN11, or RUD.

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“The ascent phase, the transition to horizontal and control during the free fall were good. A (relatively) small CH4 leak caused a fire in the engine 2 and part of the fried avionics, which caused a difficult start in the attempt of burned landing on the CH4 turbopump, “he explained.

A “hard start” is when there is an ignition with too much fuel in the engine’s combustion chamber and the pressure is too high, according to Space.com.

“This is being fixed in 6 ways through Sunday,” Musk said.

The failed test flight launched on March 30 from SpaceX’s South Texas Starship development center near Boca Chica Village.

After ascending to a maximum altitude of 6.2 miles, as planned, the 165-foot-tall stainless steel spacecraft broke apart just before landing.

Dense fog obscured live video of the blast and onboard cameras froze after the SN11 made its signature turn maneuver in preparation for landing.

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CNET reported Monday that other cameras aimed at the landing pad had captured an orange glow and a debris storm as it rained down on the exclusion zone around the pad.

“At least the crater is in the right place!” Musk tweeted March 30th.

SpaceX later confirmed that SN11 had “experienced” a RUD, marking the fourth consecutive Starship vehicle that SpaceX has lost since December.

Debris is recovered from a National Wildlife Refuge after the prototype of SpaceX Starship's unmanned SN11 rocket failed to land safely, in Boca Chica, Texas, USA on March 31, 2121. REUTERS / Gene blevins

Debris is recovered from a National Wildlife Refuge after the prototype of the unmanned SpaceX spacecraft SN11 rocket failed to land safely, in Boca Chica, Texas, USA on March 31, 2121. REUTERS / Gene Blevins
(REUTERS / Gene Blevins)

CH4, or methane, powers the SN11’s three Raptor engines, giving it more than 1 million pounds of thrust.

The Raptors were supposed to turn off once they reached the desired altitude and turn back on in the last stage of the rocket descent for a vertical landing.

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Both Starship and SpaceX’s Super Heavy, the booster stage, will be powered by Raptor engines and the company has already built the next updated Starship prototype, SN15.

The spacecraft is designed for orbital flight and will carry both human passengers and cargo to the moon and eventually to Mars.



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