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SpaceX live feed of Starship #9 flight

Just before landing
Just before landing.

Just after landing.
Just after landing.

The test is over. All went perfectly until the landing, when the spacecraft once again crashed on the launchpad. They hit the target, but just too hard.

This time the problem occurred early in the landing maneuver. It appeared the spacecraft was unable to get completely vertical and hit the ground without firing its engines.

Right now we have no idea what the issue was, or what will be involved in fixing it. Starship #10 sits on its launchpad, ready to go. Assuming they do not have to make major changes or redesigns to correct the issue, I would expect it to launch within six weeks.

Of course, that assumes the Biden administration doesn’t ramp up its regulatory enforcement effort against SpaceX. And I have every expectation that will be the goal of the Democrats now in charge of the federal government.

Meanwhile, the FAA is now claiming the launch license approval delay last week was related to SpaceX violating it license approval during the December test flight of Starship prototype #8.

In a Feb. 2 statement, the FAA said that SpaceX had requested a waiver to its FAA license for suborbital test flights of its Starship vehicle before the Dec. 9 flight of the Starship SN8 vehicle. That waiver, the FAA said, would have allowed SpaceX to “exceed the maximum public risk allowed by federal safety regulations.”

The FAA denied the request, but SpaceX went ahead with the launch. SpaceX considered the flight successful, although the vehicle exploded upon landing. No injuries or third-party damage was reported during the flight, but the FAA determined that SpaceX violated the conditions of its license by proceeding without the waiver.

“As a result of this non-compliance, the FAA required SpaceX to conduct an investigation of the incident,” the agency stated. “All testing that could affect public safety at the Boca Chica, Texas, launch site was suspended until the investigation was completed and the FAA approved the company’s corrective actions to protect public safety.”

This could be true but personally, I don’t buy it. To me this sounds like government spin to justify their own incompetence in blocking last week’s flight. It also sounds like the kind of spin used by government bureaucrats when they want to enlarge their power. Today’s landing crash of prototype #9 now gives the FAA and Biden administration wonderful ammunition to clamp down hard on SpaceX.

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From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

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20 comments

  • kyle foley

    Something broke off during flip. Looked like from an engine

  • Max

    I saw that too, at the same time the second motor was just starting to light up, The part flew off and the motor went out. Without the motor, the rocket failed to remain upright and over corrected before impact on the pad.

  • Jay

    Looks like the second engine did not fire. Still that is a cool camera view of SN9 coming down and flipping.

    Kyle, are you talking @11:47 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zZ7fIkpBgs?

  • c

    Fer you younguns out there, who don’t remember the Fifties and early Sixties, that’s what an unguided missile looks like

  • Richard M

    It looked pretty guided to me: It made the crater exactly where it was supposed to.

    Now they just have to eliminate the “crater” part.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Let’s see – you have a launch license, decide you actually do comply with all conditions but maybe you’d like a little more margin in one area so you ask for a waiver and when it is denied you launch anyway because you didn’t really need the waiver.

    Exactly what is the problem here?

  • Mitch S.

    Looking at the vid again, my guess is the second engine started to light then blew up.
    There is more than one piece flying off.
    Freeze at 11:48 in the video (T + 6:22), Looks like the engine nozzle is falling away.
    (A good argument for many, smaller engines, to have redundancy)

  • Klystron

    I find it curious, perhaps suspicious, that the engines seem to have issues when coming out of the horizontal flight regime. If not the engines, maybe the fuel/ox system.

    There could be a lot of flow anomalies inside the tanks due to the rapid attitude change and accompanying accelerations. Ever try to drive a pickup or trailer with a large water tank in the back? A lot of sloshing going on….

  • Steve Richter

    I don’t know. Two consecutive crashes. I would expect the system to have been designed with a margin of error. The fuel either sloshes around too much or it doesn’t. The engines can fire quickly, the fines can stabilize the craft. Prior testing should have shown that these component systems would work as designed. These failures should have been caused by systems not working together as expected. Not by failure on their own.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think Mitch is right. If it were my call, Super-Heavy would have been tested first due to more engine-out capability.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Two consecutive crashes? Falcon 9 crashed many more times than that, before settling down to doing it with regularity.

  • Jeff Wright

    That’s fair–still, this is a whole ‘nother beastie.
    Maybe a temp.’ Flyback model with wings?

  • Jeff

    Jeff Wright – “Flyback model with wings?”

    Think I read Starship, as built, would not support itself in an empty, horizontal position. The current configuration seems to do quite well – in flight – with the fore/aft fins controlling the descent.

    I think we are seeing the opening scenes of “How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket – Part 2”
    https://youtu.be/bvim4rsNHkQ

    8^)

  • pzatchok

    I wonder if they should not try the next one at about half the height and without the flip maneuver.

    Just run it up and try to restart the engines for a landing.

    This would eliminate any fuel cavitation problems.

    If they started the deceleration earlier it would force the fuel to the bottom of the tanks and give it a chance to settle a bit.
    It might give those second and third engines a better chance to restart,

  • Jeff Wright

    Maybe small amounts of hypergolics to get things running or land with?

  • Edward

    For those who do not know, the fuel and oxidizer for the landing come from smaller tanks that are full and not sloshing. These two are called header tanks. They do not slosh and are intended to be full enough to be able to supply fuel to the engines starting in the horizontal position, through the final pitch-over, and down to landing.

    Klystron is right, that there is sloshing in the main tanks from the leftover propellants, and that is one of the control issues that SpaceX is working out during these tests. It does not seem to be a problem that causes failure, but it is something that can mildly affect the control of the spacecraft.

    pzatchok wondered: “… if they should not try the next one at about half the height and without the flip maneuver.

    The flip maneuver is one of the new features of Starship. It is the one that SpaceX is having trouble with, so it is where they need to concentrate some serious testing and study. They already know that they can land a Starship, as this is what the previous hops were intended to demonstrate. This is why Super Heavy is second to be tested. Landing vertically is not the problem to be solved, but getting everything to work while in rapid rotational motion during the flip is.

    SpaceX is doing things with rockets that no one ever thought would or could be done with them. Or should, for that matter. Those guys be crazy! As in insane. I can’t think of any science fiction or fantasy that imagined such bizarre and unrealistic maneuvers for rockets. I see it, yet I don’t believe it.

    Klystron is right, again, that there are rapid attitude change and accompanying accelerations. I wonder how uncomfortable they will be for passengers in the nose section. Somehow, Starship does not burst or come flying apart, except for those couple of bits at the end of this flight.

    As for hypergolics, another feature of Starship is to use in-situ resources on Mars and the Moon. The less complex the molecule that they have to make, the better. It is why they are trying to get away from helium as a pressurant for the tanks, as it will not be available in quantity at the Moon or at Mars. They are also getting away from hypergolics.

    Scott Manley has his own analysis of the flight:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwZl6YV3xYA (14 minutes)

  • pzatchok

    In the previous successful landings I do not think they launched with full size craft and three engines.

    I also do not think they actually shut down the engines totally and restarted them. They just did hops and hover tests.

    The flight and the flips are going well. Its the engine restarts in flight that are killing them.

    Are they having trouble with wind back flowing the engines during a restart? Does the skirt around the engines cause some kind of engine nozzle instability during decent? Are they being pushed around by to much captured wind?

    Is there a problem with the engines because they are going from hot during launch to cold just before relighting? Are turbines ripping themselves apart because the outer case is cold from the air during free fall but the inner moving parts are still hot and expanded from the launch?

    This is not a flight problem. Its an engine problem.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You wrote: “This is not a flight problem. Its an engine problem.

    Many of your questions involve flight conditions, especially those that come from the horizontal fall or the pitchover. These problems are best studied under these flight conditions. It is why engines that work well on test stands are then tested during flight — especially tested under the conditions that will be seen during operational flight. The industry phrase is “test like you fly, fly like you test.”

    If SpaceX thought that the Raptor engine didn’t restart well then they would not be at this phase of test. What they are doing now is trying to get the whole system to work in ways that have never been done before. It is unexplored territory, and like Lewis and Clark (and Robert in unmapped caves), they are drawing (metaphorical) maps as they go. This is why they have so many more test articles under construction. They anticipated that these new and unusual conditions would not be quick or easy to understand and master.

  • pzatchok

    Do you remember the first successful falcon 9 landing.?

    They tried several times for the barge and then switched to a solid ground landing and stuck it like an Olympics gymnast.

    All I am saying is it might be time to skip the flip and stick one.

    Prove the engines restart and land correctly.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    They didn’t do a solid ground landing because of problems landing on the drone ship. They did it because the payload didn’t need as much oomph, and they had the luxury of retuning to land.

    You may want to see a successful landing, but that will delay their learning experience. They aren’t doing this for our entertainment. They do it in order to gain the experience that they need to do it right. They already know that the engines can restart, as two of them have already done so, but they need to learn why they are having problems with the others.

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