Elon Musk Says Methane Leak Caused Starship SN11 Explosion

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said a methane leak caused the Starship SN11 prototype to explode in midair on March 30. Musk tweeted:

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.

This is getting fixed 6 ways to Sunday.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2021

The leak and explosion occurred as the vehicle was beginning preparations to land at SpaceX’s test site at Boca Chica, Texas. It was the fourth failure to land a Starship prototype in as many attempts.

The SN15 Starship is now being prepared for flight. SpaceX elected to skip prototypes SN12 through SN14.

Starship SN11 Explodes & Crashes During Landing Maneuver

SpaceX launched its Starship SN11 prototype from Boca Chica on Tuesday morning, only to see the vehicle crash like its predecessors SN8, SN9 and SN10.

It is not entirely clear what precisely went wrong because the vehicle was launched in a thick fog that enveloped the coastal launch site in south Texas.

Using onboard cameras, SpaceX’s website showed SN11 reaching 10 km as it gradually shut off all three engines. It then glided down to an altitude of 1 km, at which time SN11 began to restart one of its engines and to pivot for a landing.

At 5:49 into the flight, the feed from the onboard camera froze. This was followed by the sound of what appeared to be an explosion and vehicle parts crashing to the ground.

“We do appear to have lost all data from the vehicle,” said John Insprucker, who anchored SpaceX’s webcast of the test. “We’re going to have to find out from the team what happened.”

Insprucker ended the webcast a short time later without providing any further details. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted, ‘At least the crater is in the right place!”

“Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed,” Musk later tweeted. “Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.”

The next vehicle will be called SN15. As part of SpaceX’s rapid prototyping approach, SN12 through SN14 have been skipped.

SpaceX Launches 60 More Starlink Satellites

Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. — On Wednesday, March 24 at 4:28 a.m. EDT, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink broadband satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

It was SpaceX’s ninth launch and the 25th launch worldwide of 2021. Seven Falcon 9 boosters have launched 420 Starlink satellites into orbit this year.

SpaceX has now launched 1,385 Starlink satellites, with 1,321 currently in orbit. Elon Musk’s company has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites to provide broadband services worldwide.

This was the sixth launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously supported launch of GPS-III Space Vehicle 03, Turksat 5A, and three Starlink missions.

One half of Falcon 9’s fairing supported the Sentinel-6A mission and the other supported a previous Starlink mission.

SpaceX Applies to Install Starlink Receivers in Vehicles, Boats and Planes; Next Launch is Thursday Morning

Credit: SpaceX

UPI reports that SpaceX has applied to provide Starlink satellite services to mobile vehicles:

SpaceX attorneys filed an application on Friday with the Federal Communications Commission seeking “a blanket license” authorizing customer reception of the signal in vehicles, boats and planes.

Musk said Monday on Twitter, however, that the Starlink terminal is too big for most passenger cars.

“This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs,” Musk wrote.

Starlink home and office terminals are small dishes that rotate to acquire and keep a signal, and they must be installed outside with a clear view of the sky.

“SpaceX Services will ensure installation of … terminals on vehicles and vessels by qualified installers who have an understanding of the antenna’s radiation environment and the measures best suited to maximize protection of the general public and persons operating the vehicle and equipment,” the application says.

Meanwhile, the company plans to launch another 60 Starlink satellites on Thursday at 3:13 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The launch was scrubbed on Tuesday to allow for more checks on the vehicle.

The Starlink network will be composed of nearly 12,000 satellites designed to provide broadband services around the world. SpaceX has already launched more than 1,000 Starlink satellites into orbit.

Musk Plans Starlink Manufacturing Plant in Austin, “Starbase” City at Boca Chica

Planet SkySat deployed during SpaceX’s ninth Starlink mission using Exolaunch’s CarboNix deployer. (Credit: SpaceX website)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant to produce dishes, Wi-Fi routers and related devices for the Starlink satellite broadband network in Austin, Texas, and establish the “city of Starbase” at Boca Chica, Texas.

“Specifically, they will design and develop control systems and software for production line machinery – ultimately tackling the toughest mechanical, software, and electrical challenges that come with high volume manufacturing, all while maintaining a focus on flexibility, reliability, maintainability, and ease of use,” said a job posting for the position of automation and controls engineer.

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Report: SpaceX Raises $850 Million

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

CNBC reports that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has completed an equity funding round of $850 million, raising the company’s valuation to $74 billion.

The company raised the new funds at $419.99 a share, those people said — or just 1 cent below the $420 price that Elon Musk made infamous in 2018 when he declared he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private at that price.

The latest round also represents a jump of about 60% in the company’s valuation from its previous round in August, when SpaceX raised near $2 billion at a $46 billion valuation.

In addition to SpaceX further building a war chest for its ambitious plans, company insiders and existing investors were able to sell $750 million in a secondary transaction, one of the people said.

SpaceX will use the funding to build out its 12,000-satellite Starlink broadband network and to develop its Super Heavy and Starship vehicles.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NRO Payload in Record 26th Successful Flight of Year

Falcon 9 launches the NROL-108 mission on Dec. 19, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Saturday, December 19 at 9:00 a.m. EST, Falcon 9 launched the NROL-108 mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, completing SpaceX’s 26th and final mission of 2020.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission.

Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida – the 70th landing for SpaceX.

Editor’s Note: SpaceX’s 26 launches is a new record for Elon Musk’s company in a calendar year. It was America’s 44th and final orbital launch attempt of the year. That is the highest number in more than 50 years.

Overall, there have been 110 launch attempts with 10 failures worldwide. Two more launches — Long March 8 from China, and a Soyuz-2 from Kourou — are scheduled before the end of the year. It’s possible China or Russia could conduct additional launches; these countries don’t always announce flights very far in advance.

Starship Flies, Explodes While Attempting to Land

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX flew its Starship SN8 vehicle for nearly seven minutes on Wednesday, but the ship exploded as it attempted to land at the test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship SN8 in flight. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The vehicle flew vertically, powered by three Raptor engines. One engine stopped, and then a second one stopped firing, leaving a sole Raptor to power the flight.

Starship SN8 flies on one engine. (Credit: SpaceX website)

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

Starship SN8 in glide mode. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Starship then pitched and glided to its landing area. However, SN8 was not able to right itself using engine power before it struck the ground at 6 minutes 42 seconds into the flight.

Starship SN8 explodes on impact. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” Musk tweeted.

Prior to the flight test, Musk had estimated that SN8 had about a 30 percent chance of landing successfully.

SN8 was the latest in a series of Starship prototypes. SpaceX wants to use Starship and the Super Heavy rocket to launch crewed missions to the moon and Mars, satellites into orbit, and rapid point-to-point flights between distant locations on Earth.

Starship Flight Test Set for Next Week

SpaceX will attempt a high-altitude flight test of its Starship prototype sometime next week. Teslerati reports:

CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s first fully-assembled Starship prototype is on track for its 15-kilometer (~50,000 ft) launch debut after completing a second three-engine static fire test on Tuesday.

Starship serial number 8’s (SN8) three Raptor engines ignited for a few seconds around 5:30 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, November 24th, less than four hours before a record-breaking Falcon 9 rocket  launched another batch of Starlink satellites roughly a thousand miles to the east. Perhaps briefly producing upwards of 600 metric tons (6000 kN/~1.3M lbf) of thrust, Starship SN8’s second triple-engine static fire was actually the first with that particular trio of engines.

Cameron County has posted the following schedule for closing Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach to allow SpaceX to conduct the test.

TEMP. CLOSURE DATETIME OF CLOSURE
(CST)
CURRENT BEACH STATUS
Primary DateNov 30, 20207:00 am to 6:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 1, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 2, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled

Musk has estimated there is a one-in-three chance of Starship landing successfully. There are two more Starships in production.

Report: Loverro Feared 2024 Moon Landing Would be Imperiled by Boeing Contract Protest

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

A former senior NASA official violated procurement regulations in his dealings with Boeing out of fear the company could delay the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, The Washington Post reports.

The Post reports that NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Doug Loverro reached out to Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton in February to tell the company it would not win a study contract for the Human Landing System, a vehicle that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The call came at a time when NASA was not to contact any of the bidders.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned in May, wanted to find out if Boeing planned to protest its loss. If so, NASA would need to issue stop work orders to the winning bidders until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on the protest. GAO reviews usually take months.

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OIG Audit: NASA Gateway Elements Behind Schedule, Over Budget

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s attempt to use innovative acquisition practices to speed up development of the lunar Gateway has left the first two elements of the station over budget and behind schedule, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

It is also unlikely the human-tended Gateway will be capable of supporting the planned 2024 mission to land American astronauts at the south pole of the moon, the audit concluded.

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Musk Might Have COVID-19 Virus He Dismissed & Said He Wouldn’t Catch

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
  • Billionaire once predicted deadly coronavirus would largely disappear by April
  • Musk called government efforts to contain spread of COVID-19 “fascist”
  • He twice defied orders from health officials on closing his Tesla auto plant

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk, who just six weeks dismissed the possibility that he would be infected with COVID-19, might in fact have caught the deadly virus. On Thursday, the SpaceX CEO tweeted:

Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD,” Musk tweeted on Thursday.

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NASA and SpaceX Complete Certification of First Human-Rated Commercial Space System

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Resilience for NASA SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission are seen inside the SpaceX Hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 9, 2020, before rollout to Launch Pad 39A. (Credits: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Years of design, development, and testing have culminated in NASA officially certifying the first commercial spacecraft system in history capable of transporting humans to and from the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA completed the signing of the Human Rating Certification Plan Tuesday for SpaceX’s crew transportation system after a thorough Flight Readiness Review ahead the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the space station.

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