SpaceX's exploding Starship: Why this massive rocket keeps blowing up
SpaceX is trying to build the biggest rocket in history, the starship, it could be the key to getting humans to Mars.
But getting it off the ground hasn't been smooth sailing.
So what does the starship mean for space travel?
And what is with all the explosions?
The starship has been well and truly breaking new ground, but it's also been breaking on the ground quite literally.
Turns out landing a rocket so that it can fly again is really hard work.
And in the case of starship, sticking the landing during its high altitude test flights has been the toughest part.
The SN8, SN9 and SN10 starship prototypes all exploded at the end of their flights.
Then, during Space X is live stream of the SN 11 test flight just before landing, the cameras cut out and we heard a big bang.
Musk says the starship could be ready to fly to the moon as soon as 2023.
Now if you look at all the explosions that might feel like a long way off, but it's important to remember there's a lot about starship that's totally unprecedented.
And to understand what's going on in testing, we need to know a little bit about the rocket itself.
The starship is massive.
The specs for the final design put it at 120 metres or 394 feet tall, which would make it the tallest rocket ever.
Not only that it's designed to carry.
The payload fairing that's the part of the rocket that carries crew or cargo is nine meters wide on the starship.
Compare that to the SpaceX Falcon nine or NASA's Atlas five rocket which launched the perseverance rover.
They're both about five meters wide.
Instead of running on traditional jet fuel, the starship runs on liquid oxygen and methane, which SpaceX hopes to one day produce on Mars.
And it's made up of just two parts or stages.
The starship spacecraft which carries the crew and cargo and, The super heavy rocket which gets it into space.
But here's the kicker.
SpaceX wants that super heavy booster to be fully reusable, meaning that after the starship has launched, then the launch system comes back down and lands on Earth, just like we've seen with the Falcon nine rocket.
Fits, making a rocket that can land itself has taken a lot of testing.
Testing started small relatively speaking with the star hopper.
In July 2019 the single engine star hopper left the ground in Boca Chica for the first time.
It flew 20 meters or 66 feet off the ground before landing a short time later.
Then a month later the star hopper flew 150 metres off the ground in a minute long test flight after those initial hops spacex ran a battery of flight tests in quick succession with varying results but they will also big successes Like sn five and sn six, which both had successful hops in the summer of 2020.
So why so many tests in such a short time?
Well, according to Chris James from the University of Queensland School of hypersonics, SpaceX is going full Silicon Valley.
To move fast and break things, and to do that they need to do real world testing.
If you've got infinite money and infinite time, nothing's better than a flight test.
The reason we do scale money tests like we do an impulse wind tunnels where you do simulations is because it costs a lot less money, but it can't compare to the real thing.
After those early hops, Things got really interesting with the star ships high altitude test flights.
During these flights,the rocket fires,all three Raptor engines to launch,then switches them off one by one.
As it reaches its altitude of roughly 10 kilometers or six miles.
Then the starship does a belly flop, turning horizontally and descending with the help of the flaps on the side of the rocket that control direction.
Then right before landing, the engine switch back on pushing the starship upright so it can land.
That's how it's supposed to work.
But turns out landing these things in real life is rocket science.
And, Starships First high-altitude Flight came in December 2020 with the sn8 it successfully launched and sawed 12 and a half kilometers or about eight miles into the air.
But when it came time to land the spacecraft exploded in a ball of Fire.
Two months later, the SN 9 met a similar fate reaching an altitude of 10 kilometers before crash landing in a spectacular fashion [SOUND]
So what happened?
Well in the case of the sn a it was a case of coming in too fast the rocket successfully fired all three raptor engines and nailed its belly flop maneuver but right before landing when the rocket was supposed to fire its landing burn to get back in a vertical position things didn't go to plan According to a tweet from Elon Musk, the fuel header tank pressure was too low so that landing burn didn't slow the rocket down enough.
The result it came in high speed and experienced an RUD or Rapid Unscheduled Disassembling.
Whereas I like to call it too fast too furious.
The sn nine also had a successful launch and belly flop, but instead of going vertical before landing, it rotated too far coming in at an awkward angle so kind of like the Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift The result even more flames.
The SN10 prototype took a test flight in March 2021.
It launched and successfully landed the first soft touchdown for a starship ever bought about 10 minutes after the landing.
You guessed it explosion SpaceX had ended it stream by then.
But local live streamers got a good view of the action.
The SN11 launch didn't give us much of a view at all at the start.
In the fog is SpaceX and Starship just vehicle number 11.
Despite the weather, SN11 launched successfully and we even got a great view of the rocket side flaps.
Guiding the starship down on its descent.
But almost six minutes into the stream, the cameras cut out and just before the rocket was due to land, we heard a big boom.
[SOUND] After the dust settled, Elon Musk tweeted that the rocket had issues during the landing burn.
But the team would have to court examine the bits to work out what went wrong.
So goodbye SN 11 but despite all the great balls of fire space X has said that this program has been a success, mostly because of all the data that these flights have brought in.
According to Chris James from the university of Queensland, these flights are a huge deal.
��Mostly because no one has ever done rocket design like this before.�� It's a very difficult thing.
But I think the next level of difficulty is actually making it really usable that NASA are known before even thought was possible.
So I think all this stuff that we are seeing these crash landings and stuff like that Not, no one else has even bothered before, right?
They just throw the stages like off the back and let them collapse in the ocean so i think that is the really hard part.
If there's one thing we've learned it's that spacex wants to move fast, even if it involves breaking a few things.
And according to Chris James, it's not that SpaceX is getting things wildly wrong.
It's just that were getting a peek behind the curtain as it's happening.
They're doing all this stuff out in the open.
So they're testing things that NASA probably would have tested on rocket test rays, you know, behind closed doors.
Complex simulation models and they just happen to show everyone, what they do.
And so I think this is probably quite normal.
No matter when the starship gets to space, one thing is for sure, SpaceX, sure knows how to put on a show.
But what do you guys think do you think a flight to mars is closer than ever before let me know in the comments below and be sure to stay tuned to cnet because we will be following the starship on every step of its great adventure to the moon mars and beyond
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