Tag Archives: Starship

SpaceX rocket aced a landing, then exploded so hard it launched again for a bit

Luckily, nobody was injured and the company seems to be taking the events in good spirits.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX is a company that’s definitely not afraid to take risks and try new things. And a natural part of such an approach is that things will often not go according to plan, and sometimes they fail spectacularly. Yesterday was one such day, after one of the company’s Starship rockets touched down in Texas.

Post-landing problems

SpaceX wants to make going to space cheap enough that it’s practical. A large part of that plan involves cutting down costs by making rockets reusable. They’re hard at work doing that.

So far, they’ve run into their fair share of trouble. Their approach involves using the rocket’s thrusters in flight to orient the craft upright before landing. Two of their previous test flights ended in fireballs though, because, while the rockets maneuvered as intended, they didn’t decelerate fast enough before touching down.

The test yesterday went much better than those two. It used a full-scale prototype of the rocket, which launched, traveled around 6 miles (10 kilometers), and then headed in for a landing. The maneuvers worked like a charm, and the craft flipped upright after descending close enough to the pad. “Third time’s the charm as the saying goes,” quipped SpaceX commentator John Insprucker, referring to the previous trials, as the rocket touched down successfully.

A few minutes later, however, the rocket would explode, briefly sending itself upon a new flight path.

SpaceX has not issued an official statement on the event yet, but CEO Elon Musk did comment on his personal Twitter account with good humor.

Technically speaking, it did. The first time.

It’s all good to make fun of a bad situation, but even considering that the rocket exploded after landing, this is quite the feat. SpaceX’s approach was under question given how the last two tests panned out, but yesterday’s shows that the plan was sound after all. Most importantly, nobody was injured, and rockets can be rebuilt. Even a result like this — which was arguably, ultimately, a failure — brings us one step closer to the days when rockets are reusable and don’t explode on the landing pad. Both extremely desirable traits, as the Spaceship is earmarked to ferry people to and from Mars for SpaceX.

“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” Musk added in a later tweet. It is not yet clear why the rocket exploded, but according to the Independent, “observers speculated that it was the result of a rough landing combined with a methane leak”.

SpaceX bought two oil platforms to transform them into launchpads

The two former oil rigs (renamed Phobos and Deimos like the Martian moons) will now be used as launchpads for the SpaceX Starship rocket, which is designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Valaris plc has had a pretty lousy 2020. Like all oil companies, it suffered as the price of oil declined sharply, but Valaris seemed to take it worse than others, filing for bankruptcy in July. Turns out, before doing that, it sold two oil rigs for $3.5 million each to SpaceX.

SpaceX has long eyed launch and landing sites for its Starship launch system, and a water-based seaport would fit the bill excellently, especially since the ship will have a large blast area and would create a lot of noise (a common problem for populated areas). The two rigs in the Port of Brownsville, near SpaceX’s Starship development facility in Boca Chica, Texas, will not pose that problem.

Although the oil rigs were sold half a year ago, SpaceX didn’t openly announce it. NASA Space Flight magazine pieced things together, noticing that at the time the rigs were sold, SpaceX started advertising positions around Brownsville, including crane operators, electricians, and offshore operations engineers. In particular, one job advert called for applicants who can “install enhancements and major upgrades to offshore vessel electrical systems.” At the same time, founder Elon Musk confirmed that SpaceX was “building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth”. Now, the mystery has been lifted: the project involves SpaceX and its massive Starship, meant to send people to Mars and (maybe) back.

So far, the Starship prototype launched to about 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), but despite passing some of the checkpoints, it exploded when it reached the ground. It’s pretty much still a work in progress, although Musk has great hopes for it.

SpaceX plans to eventually send not one, but multiple Starships to Mars during a single launch window (the period when the orbit of Earth will help put the rocket on a trajectory to Mars — just a few weeks every 26 months). There’s still a lot of work to be done, but if everything goes smoothly, Phobos and Deimos can enter service in late 2021. Until then, the Starship launch system is already expected to become operational, for orbital flights.

“SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth,” Musk had previously tweeted in June 16, 2020

Based on the extensive work still needed to prepare the rigs, Phobos and Deimos will likely enter service after the initial orbital flights of the Starship launch system. The first orbital Starship launch from Boca Chica could occur in late 2021, pending successful Starship and Super Heavy testing throughout the year.

SpaceX also plans to eventually send multiple Starships to Mars during a single interplanetary transfer window. These flights will be in addition to perhaps hundreds of Starship missions to Earth orbit before carrying any people.

Musk unveils SpaceX’s Starship on livestream

In a speech that was streamed live from SpaceX’s launch facility in Texas, Elon Musk unveiled the spacecraft that he hopes will make space travel a common affair.

Starship at SpaceX launch facility in Cameron County, Texas.
Image credits Spacex / Twitter.

This Saturday, Musk presented SpaceX’s Starship Mk.1, a prototype of the company’s towering reusable rocket, reports Business Insider. He spoke from a stage clad in a shiny metal fuselage. The craft is intended for reusable space missions where it will launch, take people to Mars, the Moon, or anywhere else in the solar system they need to go, and then land back on Earth.

The new version of Starship (and its Super Heavy booster) will be able to carry up to 100 people at a time, stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall, and be completely reusable, with quick turnarounds. This is the rocket that will launch billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and a handful of artists on a trip around the moon in the 2020s.

“This is, I think, the most inspiring thing I have ever seen,” Musk told a crowd of about 200 SpaceX employees, guests, and reporters at the company’s site near Boca Chica Village, which is located just outside of Brownsville, Texas.

“What an incredible job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I’m so proud to work with such a great team.”

Musk says this reusability is essential in order to increase humanity’s presence outside of Earth. The ship, he explains, is scheduled to take its maiden flight in about one or two months and reach 65,000 feet (19,800 meters) before landing back on Earth. Musk also adds that it’s important for humanity to work and extend consciousness beyond our planet — a nice way of saying ‘colonize space’.

“Starship will allow us to inhabit other worlds,” Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, Sept. 27.

“To make life as we know it interplanetary.”

The livestream was held to mark the 11th anniversary of a SpaceX rocket reaching orbit for the first time.