SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Monday that the methane leak was “relatively small” that caused the company to explode its latest starship test rocket during an experimental flight in South Texas last week.
On March 30, the 164-foot (50-meter) “Starship” test vehicle, known as Serial Number 11, took off from SpaceX’s development base and flew to the vicinity of Brownsville for approximately 33,000 feet (about 33,000 feet). 10,000 meters) high-altitude atmospheric test.
The three Raptor engines consume ultra-cold methane and liquid oxygen propellant respectively, and power the stainless steel rocket from the launch pad with more than one million pounds of thrust.
After soaring above the dense fog, Starship shut down each Raptor engine in turn as planned, and then pitched horizontally to begin a controlled descent back to the ground. Pneumatic flaps helped stabilize the giant aircraft, because before it fell to the earth, the Raptor engine should reignite and flip the rocket back to the ground vertically in order to land on the landing pad near the launch site of the spacecraft.
The thick fog prevented people from understanding what was happening, but as the Raptor engine landed, the on-board camera view of SpaceX’s live webcast froze. Other camera views showed that after the thunderous rumbling of the entire facility, debris spilled into the test site, which Musk called the “interstellar base.”
Although the material may have fallen off the rocket as the spacecraft climbed towards the highest point of the orbit, the light detrital fragments of the interstellar spacecraft have apparently traveled 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the launch site. Not during the explosion before landing.
Musk said on Twitter on Monday that the ascent phase of the Starship SN11 test flight is proceeding as planned. He said that the transition to the horizontal and the transition to control during the free fall back to the earth are also very good.
However, a small amount of methane leak caused one of the vehicle’s Raptor engines to catch fire and blow up part of the avionics system. Musk said this caused the engine’s methane turbopump to “hard start” at the beginning of the landing combustion.
“By Sunday, six people said the matter had been resolved,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
During the ascent phase, the free fall transition to level and control are good.
The relatively small leakage of CH4 caused the engine 2 to catch fire and blow up the avionics, making it difficult to start when trying to start the CH4 turbo pump to land and burn.
By Sunday, there are 6 solutions.
-Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2021
Since the high-altitude test flight began in December, the explosion on March 30 was the fourth consecutive loss of a spacecraft by SpaceX.
During the test flight of the “Interstellar spacecraft” on December 9, a hard landing was due to the low pressure of the lumped tank, which provided the vehicle’s Raptor engine with severe combustion before landing, and one of the Raptor engines failed to land during the landing Burn and reignite. A test flight took place on February 2.
The SN10 rocket achieved the first soft landing of a full-size starship aircraft at the end of its test flight on March 3, but the rocket exploded a few minutes later.
SpaceX is developing the interstellar spacecraft, which will eventually replace the Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon capsule as the company’s next-generation rocket, crew and cargo transporter. The interstellar spacecraft currently undergoing testing in Texas will form the upper stage of the giant new rocket, which will stand nearly 400 feet (approximately 120 meters) tall, while the interstellar spacecraft will be stacked on top of the giant booster stage.
The full-size rocket used for orbital missions will be equipped with 28 Raptor engines in the first stage and 6 Raptor engines in the upper stage of Starship. SpaceX said it will be able to deliver 220,000 pounds or more than 100 metric tons of payload to low Earth orbit.
According to SpaceX, once in orbit, the “interplanetary spacecraft” will be able to obtain fresh methane and liquid oxygen propellant to continue to transport its heavy objects and eventually personnel to more distant destinations, such as the moon and Mars.
The booster stage (called super heavy) and starship aircraft will be fully reusable to limit launch costs.
But first, SpaceX needs to master Starship’s landing maneuvers, which is very different from the way SpaceX lands its Falcon rocket booster. SpaceX also plans to begin test flights of the first Super Heavy booster prototypes.
SpaceX’s next Starship rocket, named SN15, is preparing to launch from its assembly hangar at the proving ground near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. Once it is placed on the launch pad, SpaceX engineers will conduct a series of inspections and may try to perform a refueling test and a decompression test before the test flight.
The interplanetary spacecraft production base is located a few miles inland from the launch pad and landing pad.
SpaceX skipped the construction of SN12, SN13, and SN14, and instead adopted an updated version of the starship configuration that will debut in SN15.
“It has made hundreds of design improvements in structure, avionics/software and engines,” Musk said in a tweet released last week. “Hope one of the improvements can solve this problem (using SN11). If not, then the retrofit will add a few more days.”
SpaceX’s goal is to launch the first fully stacked “super heavy” and “starship” during an orbital launch from South Texas in July. “That is our goal,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
Like the founder and CEO of SpaceX in July, many timetables that plan an orbital launch in July is an aggressive goal.
Musk said that in the second half of this year, SN20 will carry out the next major technological update to the interstellar spacecraft.
“These ships will have the orbital capabilities of heat shields and stage separation systems,” Musk wrote on Twitter. The probability of success in the ascent is high. However, SN20+ vehicles may require multiple flight attempts to survive the Mach 25 intake and land intact. “
SpaceX has stacked its first super-heavy booster test bed at the South Texas launch site, called BN1. But Musk said that the vehicle is a trailblazer trying to manufacture and produce technology and can’t fly. The team is building the second super-heavy prototype BN2 for the atmospheric test flight, and then proceeding with the construction of the BN3 for possible orbital launch attempts.
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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.