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.

FAA: SpaceX Launched Starship SN8 Without Approval

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

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has provided more information on SpaceX’s SN8 launch in December and the delay in issuing a license for the SN9 flight conducted yesterday. Basically, the agency says SpaceX proceeded with the December launch without approval, but it is not fining the company for the violation.

FAA Statement on Starship SN8 Launch

Regarding the SpaceX Starship SN8 launch in December 2020, the company proceeded with the launch without demonstrating that the public risk from far field blast overpressure was within the regulatory criteria specified by 14 CFR § 431.35(b)(1)(i).

The FAA required SpaceX to conduct an investigation of the incident, including a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline. All testing that could affect public safety at the Boca Chica launch site was suspended until the investigation was completed and the FAA approved the company’s corrective actions.

With respect to potential enforcement action, the FAA’s compliance monitoring and enforcement is designed to modify behavior to comply with federal safety regulations. It also has various enforcement tools available to ensure satisfactory public safety results.

The FAA-approved corrective actions implemented by SpaceX enhanced public safety. Those actions were incorporated into today’s SN9 launch. We anticipate taking no further enforcement action on SN8 matter.

Engine Failure Caused Starship SN9 Crash

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — On Tuesday, February 2, Starship serial number 9 (SN9) completed SpaceX’s second high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from our site in Cameron County, Texas.

Similar to the high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 8 (SN8), SN9 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 kilometers in altitude. SN9 successfully performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.

The Starship prototype descended under active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on the vehicle. All four flaps are actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location. During the landing flip maneuver, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed and experience a RUD.

These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.

SpaceX’s Starship SN9 Flies, Explodes into Fireball

Launch occurs at 5:25 in the video. Enjoy!

SpaceX’s Starship SN9 rocket finally flew from Boca Chica in Texas on Tuesday, reaching an altitude of 10 km (6.2 miles) before pancaking into the ground in a gigantic fireball just like its predecessor, Starship SN8, did back in December.

It appeared that one of two rocket engines that were supposed to fire as the rocket reoriented itself for landing failed to ignite. The rocket then plunged into the ground and exploded.

The build up for this flight was longer than usual because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not issue a launch license in time for SM9’s planned flight last week.

The FAA issued the launch license late Monday after resolving safety issues. The agency issued the following statement explaining the circumstances behind issuing the license.

Prior to SN8 test launch in December, SpaceX sought a waiver to exceed the maximum public risk allowed by federal safety regulations. After the FAA denied the request, SpaceX proceeded with the flight. As a result of this non-compliance, FAA required SpaceX to conduct an investigation of the incident. All testing that could affect public safety at Boca Chica launch site was suspended until the investigation was completed and FAA approved company’s corrective actions to protect public safety.  The corrective actions arising from the SN8 incident are incorporated into the SN9 launch license.

SpaceX has already rolled out the doomed rocket’s successor, SN10 rocket.

Upcoming Launches: Falcon 9, Starship, Soyuz and SpaceShipTwo

Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 2.1b
Payload: Lotus S-1 signal intelligence satellite
Launch Time: 3:45 a.m. EST (2045 UTC)
Launch Site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome

NET Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Starship SN9
Mission: Flight Test
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Boca Chica, Texas

Flight date depends upon completion of review and the issuing of a launch license by Federal Aviation Administration.

Wednesday, February 3

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 5:57 a.m. EST (1057 UTC)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Thursday, February 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 1:19 a.m. EST (0619 UTC)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

NET Saturday, February 13

Launch Vehicle: VSS Unity/VMS Eve
Payload: Two pilots, microgravity experiments
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Spaceport America, New Mexico

Repeat of a flight test aborted on Dec. 12 due the computer losing contact with the engine. Launch opportunities extend through February. First of three additional tests intended to complete SpaceShipTwo’s initial flight test program.