Advanced Television

Starship loss creates major questions

April 21, 2023

There’s little doubt that an exploding Starship created headlines and vivid images for newspapers and broadcasters on April 20th. But keen-eyed observers have raised more than a few questions for the SpaceX engineers, technicians and specialists who are now working to discover the reasons behind the “rapid unscheduled disassembly”.

Concerns have been raised about the extreme damage done to the launch pad itself, and the probability that the exploding concrete pieces might have damaged some of the giant Raptor engines which were clearly not working. At least three Raptor engines failed at launch, and three more failed in the first seconds of flight and – according to some observers – meant the rocket veered off its nominal course.

SpaceX said in a press statement: “[The rocket] experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble.”

Cameras tracking the rocket showed the vehicle appear to deviate from its planned trajectory about two minutes after liftoff, and a status display on SpaceX’s live video stream showed six of the booster’s 33 Raptor engines shut down prematurely.

After tumbling in the upper atmosphere, the rocket’s autonomous flight termination system activated to destroy the vehicle.

The Starship reached a maximum altitude of 24 miles (39 kms) and a top speed of 1,340 mph (2,157 kms/h) according to real-time flight data displayed on SpaceX’s live webcast of the test flight.

Damage was all over the launchpad area and flying debris hit the West parking lot across from the test area and totalling at least one vehicle. More costly damage was done to SpaceX’s Tank Farm and the retaining protective wall around the site.

Pieces of the Starship’s heat shielding fell on the well-populated beach many miles away.

One well-qualified observer said that the rocket flipped because fins and flaps mean the centre of drag is in front of centre of mass, so the rocket was aerodynamically unstable.

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said the SpaceX team have plenty of work to do before Test Flight 2, not least curing the many outages and that the launchpad arrangement might need a complete rethink

Categories: Blogs, Broadband, Inside Satellite, Satellite

Tags: , ,