SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained why the Starship prototype SN11 went up in flames last week.
In a tweet on Monday, the billionaire responded to a SpaceX-themed Twitter account asking how the investigation into SN11’s “rapid unplanned separation” – or RUD – was going.
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“The ascent phase, the transition to horizontal and free fall control were good. A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine 2 and fried part of aircraft electronics, causing a hard start to try to burn in CH4 turbo pump,” explained he.
A “hard start”
“This is being solved 6 ways by Sunday,” Musk said.
The failed test flight was launched on March 30 last year from SpaceX’s South Texas Starship Development Center near Boca Chica Village.
After rising to a maximum altitude of 10.2 miles, as planned, the 165-foot-high stainless steel spacecraft broke apart just before the touchdown.
Dense fog obscured live video of the explosion, and built-in cameras froze after SN11 made its signature flip 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 storm of dirt as it rained down in the exclusion zone around the cushion.
“At least the crater is in the right place!” Musk tweeted on March 30th.
SpaceX later confirmed that the SN11 had “experienced” a RUD, marking the fourth Starship vehicle in a row that SpaceX has lost since December.
CH4, or methane, drives the SN11’s three Raptor engines, giving it more than 1 million pounds of stack.
The raptors were to shut down once they reached the desired height and be re-ignited in the last phase of the rocket descent to a vertical landing.
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Both SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy – the booster stage – will be powered by Raptor engines, and the company has already built the next updated Starship prototype, the SN15.
Starship is designed for orbital flights and will take both human passengers and cargo to the moon and eventually to Mars.