Musk confirms cause of most recent Starship prototype failure


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Capitalism in space: During a press event following the successful launch of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon, Elon Musk confirmed that the cause of the most recent Starship prototype failure was a leak at the connection point, called a quick disconnect or QD, for one of the umbilical cords that fuel the spacecraft.

If so, this cause is generally good engineering news, as it indicates the problem was not related to the prototype itself but with equipment that is more easily fixed. The article at the link notes:

Given that Starships are currently being tested independently on spartan launch mounts, it’s unclear if the current generation of prototypes has been outfitted with advanced QD panels. More likely, Musk was referring to a test of a less advanced QD panel similar to the rough version used on Starhopper last year, and SpaceX simply wanted to test its ability to disconnect and reconnect to Starship on command.

The explosion itself had not only completely destroyed the prototype, it rendered the test stand unusable. Yet, as another demonstration of SpaceX’s agility and competence as a company, the test stand was “fully dismantled and scrapped in the two days since the anomaly.”

Two days! More important, the fifth prototype is ready to go, with a sixth almost finished. They expect to resume tests before the end of the month.

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4 comments

  • geoffc

    And they had been working on a new launch stand for a week or three before hand as well. So delay will hopefully not be too long before they test SN5 which is waiting for room on the pad.
    SN6 is assembling, and parts of SN7 have started processing.

    This rate is astounding and wonderful.

  • Scott M.

    They’re also already starting on welding up SN7. Astounding speed indeed.

  • Diane Wilson

    Work on the new launch stand has also accelerated.

    On a separate note, as I’ve mentioned before, large methane-fueled rockets are new to the launch business, and methane certainly requires different handling and ground support than RP-1. Or hydrogen. SpaceX is “blazing trails” here as well, and there is certainly a learning curve. SN4 shows the risks involved. It will be interesting to see how ULA and Blue Origin handle the fuel and facilities issues for their new rockets.

  • Edward

    Reconnecting ground support equipment (GSE) is a new concept to me. In times past, NASA learned the hard way to wait for first motion (about 2 inches or 5 cm) to disconnect from the launch vehicle. Reconnecting had not been an option, without sending ground crews to do the job. We even see this type of thing on Falcon 9, which rises several meters before some of its connections disconnect. It is kind of scary to watch as the umbilicals look like they are about to come to the end of their reach.

    Reconnecting GSE. Another trail being blazed?

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