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Methane tank leak caused Starship #11 failure

Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk, a small leak of methane from one tank caused the failure of the eleventh Starship prototype. From Musk’s tweet:

Ascent phase, transition to horizontal & control during free fall were good.

A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine 2 & fried part of avionics, causing hard start attempting landing burn in CH4 turbopump.

This is getting fixed 6 ways to Sunday.

Meanwhile, prototype #15 is getting prepped for rollout to the launchpad (Numbers 12-14 were scrapped), and the first prototype of first stage Super Heavy is being assembled to testing. It is presently unclear when either will take place, though the company still has a target date of July for its first orbital launch. According to Musk, the first orbital prototypes of Starship will be those numbered 20 or higher.

“Those ships will be orbit-capable with heat shield & stage separation system,” Musk tweeted. “Ascent success probability is high. However, SN20+ vehicles will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact.”

Knowing those first orbital ships will likely not land properly raises the question as to where they will be aimed to come down. SpaceX now owns two retired floating oil platforms, and is preparing them for use by Starship/Super Heavy. It could very well be that test flights of prototype #20+ will take place to and from those pads, out in the ocean, so as to minimize any risk to populated areas. Doing so will also allow SpaceX to hone its procedures for moving these big spaceships to and from the platforms.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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  • Ray Van Dune

    I am not an explosives expert, but the sharp “crack” I heard on BocaChicaGal’s audio sounded little like the methane explosions we have seen before, and a lot like what I imagine a block of C4 would sound like! Were the C4 charges recovered?

  • MDN

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the first landing “attempts” are simply into the sea filming the attempts to flip and land softly, much as they did early in the Falcon 9 program. Given the accuracy of decent demonstrated so far and residual energies involved it would seem pretty risky to the barge platforms to try and use them before the schema is fully worked out, and they only have two which also support commercial Falcon 9 flight ops. But they have plenty of SN prototypes lined up to go and obviously aren’t planning on reusabilty anytime soon.

    I’d also like to observe that the starship program to date really seems to validate the low cost and mass producability intentions SpaceX has for the Raptor engine as they have been running through a lot of them (and I might add accumulating lots of operating time with them). Given the leap in technology and performance of this engine I think this is the unheralded news of the program so far, and likely what really scares SpaceX’ competitors the most as this is the real game changer imho.

  • MDN: Though I agree with you that the first landings will likely be in the sea, not on their oil platforms, I must correct something in your comment. I was not referring to the drone ships used for Falcon 9 1st stage landings, I was referring to two actual former oil platforms that SpaceX has purchased and is refurbishing. These are a lot more substantial than the drone ships, which are as you say used and needed for Falcon 9 launches.

  • V-Man

    SpaceX really needs to push the Starships to orbit soon, because then they can earn their keep. It didn’t matter when the early Falcon 9s borked their landing, because they had already brought cash in. Right now the Starships are merely a R&D cost. When they start dropping stuff in orbit before testing reentry and landing, the cash flow is going to be a tidal wave even after expenses!

  • Cotour

    Since the subject is tanks, I thought this video might be interesting:

  • jeff

    Cotour is spam, not Youtube.

  • jeff

    Cotour NOT spam. My mistake, link should be OK. is URL owned by . Before original post, I tried to duplicate the address format and could not; guessed spam, did not click on. Sorry.

  • Steve Richter

    How does Starship store its fuel as it travels to Mars? How does the liquid methane propellent stay liquid while the ship is exposed to sunlight?

  • wayne

    not to worry, all the youtube links are in that format.

    interesting video!

    The ‘RaLa’ Experiment: Key to the Atomic Bomb

  • mivenho

    I thought the methane came from a leak in the #2 engine, not directly from the fuel tank.

  • Skunk Bucket

    I thought the saying was “nine ways to Sunday.”

  • Col Beausabre


    Place – The demolition Range, Ft Knox ,KY

    Time – Late 1974

    Setting the Scene – Army and Marine Second Lieutenants are attending the Armor Officer Basic Course

    Chief Demolitions Instructor (A grizzled Engineer Master Sergeant, the veteran of several tours in Vietnam) )

    “Gentlemen, mankind faces few problems that can not be solved by the judicious application of high explosives”

  • @ Skunk Bucket:

    I believe Musk has the right of it, as while there are apparently many ways to Sunday, ‘six’ is the number I have heard most commonly. Have used the expression myself, sometimes.

  • Skunk Bucket

    @ bkivey

    After five seconds of actual research, I believe you’re correct. I’ve been saying it wrong for half a century. Sigh.

  • Cotour

    Col Beausabre:

    Sounds like you were there.

    “Hydro forming”.

    For anyone who might not understand what went on in that video, the roughly shaped welded sheet metal spheres were filled with water and a measured explosive was set off within them and the shock wave through the water perfectly set the metal in its new form.

  • wayne

    Col Beausabre-
    Most excellent!

    OK, I did not understand they were filled with water. (ingenious!)


    According to Chuck Schumer, “…..the intelligence community, they has 6 ways from Sunday of getting back at you”

  • Jeff Wright

    I wish they would launch from Mobile. Do a wiki search of Calvert Alabama for why. An oil derrick might get Methane from the Gulf itself. Zubrin had ideas about flare gas. Now-could Starship land on a pad that is awash for fire mitigation-maybe with intumescent paint like oil rigs use. With Deepwater Horizon-he could harvest carbon below.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    As usual, the forward minded and brilliant engineers at SpaceX have already thought of the oil rig concept. :)

  • Trent: Just to keep the record straight, this story is from January, which I posted then on BtB immediately. See:

    SpaceX buys two floating oil rigs for Starship/Super Heavy

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Indeed Bob, I remember! You’re always on top of the latest and greatest.

    A side note: I thought I read somewhere that the oil rig platforms were eventually going to use Sabatier to collect methane from CO2 in the air, but I can’t seem to find the specific quote. It was heralded as working towards a carbon neutral stance.

    In any case, you can bet SpaceX will do whatever is fastest and cheapest to get the ball rolling, maybe including using a functional oil rig for mining methane/natural gas from the earth.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think having the landing legs plunger out more propellant would allow harder thrust the harder you land.
    The piston effect would even everything out, no?

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