Why did ‘Starship’ explode? The reasons behind the failed launch of Elon Musk’s rocket:- The spacecraft developed by SpaceX, which had the capability to reach the Moon and Mars, was destroyed during an attempted separation of its two modules due to an explosion.
SpaceX’s highly anticipated launch of the massive Starship rocket resulted in an explosion over the Gulf of Mexico. However, the company views the incident as a valuable learning opportunity rather than a failure. This launch was an initial test flight, and more attempts are planned in the future.
The failure occurred during the crucial stage separation process. The first stage separated successfully after passing the critical max-q point, which places intense aerodynamic pressure on the rocket. Despite six of the 33 engines shutting down shortly after liftoff, the spacecraft demonstrated its durability and capacity for resilience.
The rocket that experienced an explosion was in fact two separate components. The first stage was a Super Heavy booster rocket used to propel the second stage, known as the Starship spacecraft, into orbit.
To separate from the Super Heavy rocket, the Starship spacecraft uses a passive mechanism, unlike other rockets that employ an active mechanism. The spacecraft unscrews itself to open the connection clamps and relies on centrifugal force to complete the separation.
This mechanism appeared to have failed during the flight test, which was an unexpected outcome. Common setbacks for rocket launches include explosion, in-flight disintegration, and flight path deviation, but the failure of the clamps to open had not been anticipated, given that they had been tested many times before.
Shortly after the incident, SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, tweeted that the company had learned a lot and was looking forward to the next test launch in a few months.
What was the explosion like?
During the test flight, the video feed indicated that the rocket was spinning as intended, but the two stages did not separate. In response, the mission control team sent a command to detonate the explosive charges on both stages of the vehicle, located between the oxygen and methane tanks.
This caused the two liquids to mix and explode, resulting in the destruction of the rocket. This safety mechanism has been used in every launch since the early days of the space race.
As the Super Heavy booster rocket was quickly using up its fuel, the 400-foot (120-meter) Starship was unable to break free and would have fallen to the ground in one piece, posing significant risks to life and property below.
For SpaceX, the successful launch and reaching the required altitude for stage separation represented an achievement in its own right. The next step is to analyze the experience, improve the next Starship spacecraft, and carry out additional tests.
John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer and launch commentator during the company’s webcast, explained that “This was a development test. This was the first test flight of Starship, and the goal is to gather data, and as we said, clear the pad and get ready to go again.”
The company is committed to learning from the test flight and using the information to refine its spacecraft design for future launches.
Does it put a Moon landing at risk?
NASA and the European Space Agency’s Artemis project have plans to use Starship for landing astronauts on the Moon. The Artemis 2 mission, which will involve four astronauts orbiting the Moon, will be launched using NASA’s SLS rocket, which was successfully tested in conjunction with Artemis 1.
However, the Artemis 3 mission, which is expected to land humans on the Moon by 2025, will rely on the Starship spacecraft. Even the most enthusiastic space enthusiasts considered this timeline ambitious, and the recent explosion during the test flight may further postpone this already accelerated schedule.
Is ‘Starship’ the most powerful rocket ever built?
The Starship rocket boasts an impressive 7,500 tons of thrust and 33 engines that fire simultaneously, surpassing the N1 rocket developed by the USSR for the Moon missions, which had 4,500 tons of thrust and 30 engines but failed in all four launches.
The current version of NASA’s SLS rocket used for the Orion capsule in the Artemis program generates around 4,000 tons of thrust and was, until the Starship, the most powerful rocket to have flown successfully.
For example, the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo missions to the Moon had only 3,300 tons of thrust. However, rocket power is not the only factor that determines success, as less powerful rockets can sometimes perform better and transport larger payloads into orbit.
Why does it burn methane?
While the liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel used by NASA’s SLS rocket is slightly more efficient than SpaceX’s Starship methalox (a mixture of liquid methane and oxygen) fuel, it is more complex to handle. Liquid hydrogen needs more cooling than methane, which is a challenging and costly process.
Methane is less prone to leaks and produces less residue than the kerosene used in SpaceX’s previous rockets, making engine cleaning easier after each flight. Therefore, despite its slightly lower efficiency, methalox is a more practical choice for the Starship rocket.
Actually, the Perseverance probe was launched in July 2020 and landed on Mars in February 2021. One of its main goals is to collect samples of Martian rock and soil that will be returned to Earth by future missions.
While Perseverance does have an instrument called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) that is designed to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, it does not collect methane gas or test the theory of methane production on Mars.
However, the idea of producing methane on Mars from local resources has been proposed by Musk as a way to enable the colonization of the planet.
Is ‘Starship’ reusable?
To clarify, the Starship spacecraft is designed to be fully reusable, with both the first-stage Super Heavy booster and the second-stage Starship spacecraft capable of landing back on Eart
. In the case of this recent test flight, both stages were intentionally destroyed as a safety measure when the separation mechanism failed. However, future flights are planned to have both stages return to Earth intact for reuse.
SpaceX has already successfully landed and reused multiple Falcon 9 rockets, and they have been working on the technology to land and reuse the much larger Starship spacecraft.
That’s correct. The ability to reuse rockets is a major factor in lowering the cost of spaceflight. SpaceX’s reusable rockets, like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, have already made spaceflight more affordable, and the Starship is expected to take this to the next level.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is not designed for reuse, which makes each launch much more expensive. However, the SLS has been designed to carry much larger payloads than SpaceX’s rockets, making it necessary for certain missions.
How much does a ‘Starship’ cost?
In 2019, Musk said the development cost of Starship would be about $3 billion (€2.7 billion), although he hopes to reduce this to $9 million per unit once it can be mass-produced. Each SLS rocket costs about $4 billion.
It’s worth noting that the seven main rocket boosters referred to in the previous statement likely refer to the Super Heavy booster rockets for the Starship system, not the Falcon rockets which have been in use by SpaceX for several years.
As of now, SpaceX has launched over 100 Falcon rockets and has also landed and reused many of them, demonstrating the company’s success in developing reusable rocket technology.
SpaceX: Where did it take off from?
Starbase is a facility built by SpaceX in Boca Chica, Texas, which serves as a production and launch site for the Starship spacecraft. The facility includes a launch pad, a high bay for stacking Starship, and several other support structures.
SpaceX has also constructed a 490-foot (150-meter) launch tower, known as the Orbital Launch Tower, which will eventually be used to launch Starship into orbit. The Starbase facility is also used for testing and development of other SpaceX vehicles, such as the Falcon rockets.
SpaceX has plans for Starbase to become its primary launch site for Starship missions. The company envisions a future where Starship will be used to carry astronauts to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, as well as to launch satellites and other payloads into orbit around Earth.
To support this vision, the company has been expanding its facilities at Starbase, including the construction of additional launch pads and launch integration facilities.
The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is also being upgraded to support Starship launches, with the construction of a new launch tower and other facilities.
The first stage of the Starship is actually intended to land on a nearby platform, not return to the launch tower. The two large grappling arms, or “chopsticks,” are used to stabilize the rocket during landing.
Once both stages have been recovered, they can be re-assembled, checked out, repaired, and refueled for another trip within days.
The first flight was primarily focused on testing the performance and capabilities of the Starship prototype during ascent and controlled descent. Recovery maneuvers were not attempted during this flight, but SpaceX has successfully landed and recovered the Starship prototype’s second stage on previous test flights.
SpaceX: Is it part of the lunar program?
In addition to Mars missions, Starship is designed to be a fully reusable launch vehicle for a variety of missions, including the launch of commercial satellites and the servicing of the International Space Station.
Its capacity to carry a large payload to orbit could also make it an attractive option for space-based manufacturing or construction projects.
The Artemis program aims to return humans to the Moon by 2024, and NASA plans to use commercial vehicles for the lunar lander. In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX’s Starship as the sole lunar lander for the Artemis program, beating out proposals from Blue Origin and Dynetics.
SpaceX’s proposal was the only one that offered a fully integrated lander system, with the ability to launch on its own rocket, dock with the Lunar Gateway space station, and return to Earth without the need for additional modules.
It was also the lowest-cost option, which was a significant factor in NASA’s decision. However, the award was protested by Blue Origin and Dynetics, and the contract is currently under review by the US Government Accountability Office.
Indeed, the Artemis program’s plan for the Starship variant to be used as a lunar lander is a significant departure from the relatively small lunar lander used during the Apollo program.
The Starship variant, which is designed to land and take off from the lunar surface, is expected to be much larger and more capable than the previous lunar landers, with the ability to carry both crew and cargo.
The Artemis program aims to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon, and the Starship variant is seen as a crucial component in achieving that goal.
SpaceX: Will the lunar ‘Starship’ return to Earth after landing on the Moon?
The lunar version of Starship is actually designed to be a two-way spacecraft, capable of landing on the Moon and then returning to Earth.
The spacecraft would be refueled on the lunar surface using resources that can be extracted from the Moon, allowing it to make the return trip. This is a key aspect of SpaceX’s plan to make space exploration and travel more sustainable and cost-effective.
The timeline for the lunar version of Starship is ambitious, and there are many technical challenges that SpaceX will need to overcome to meet NASA’s 2024 deadline for returning astronauts to the Moon. One of the major challenges is developing the lunar lander variant of Starship, which has not yet been built or tested.
Additionally, the process of refueling in space is a complex and difficult task that has never been done before. While SpaceX has demonstrated the ability to refuel its rockets on Earth, doing so in the harsh conditions of space is a significant engineering challenge.
Indeed, the timeline for the Artemis program is ambitious, and delays are not uncommon in the aerospace industry. There are many technical and logistical challenges to overcome before the first crewed mission to the lunar surface can take place, including the development and testing of the Starship lunar module, the integration with the Orion capsule, and the establishment of a sustainable infrastructure on the Moon.
However, with the resources and expertise of NASA and its partners, as well as the innovative approaches of companies like SpaceX, it is certainly possible to achieve this goal in the coming years.
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