Space X 'Starship' Failure Will Set the Program Back 'Several Months'

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

The Space X Starship — the largest and most powerful machine ever built — is an extraordinary concept and extremely experimental. That it blew up shortly after launch is not surprising or unexpected.

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But what may be an eye-opener is the reason it blew up. The 33 raptor rockets that fired up at launch scoured out a large part of the concrete launch pad, and the rebounding concrete thrown up by the 15 million pounds of thrust probably damaged the three raptor rockets that failed shortly after launch. This may have contributed to the failure of the second stage to separate from the rocket that ended up blowing the entire assembly to smithereens.

Related: RAPID UNSCHEDULED DISASSEMBLY: First Starship Orbital Test Flight Goes BOOM

At launch, the destruction of the concrete launch pad is clearly visible.

Those huge billowing clouds contained shrapnel that damaged nearby structures and vehicles. People living in Port Isabel, Texas reported debris falling from the sky. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen during launches of NASA rockets at Cape Canaveral.

Will Elon pay for the car?

This is what’s left of the launchpad.

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Simple human error is to blame. In fact, Musk says the company was constructing a huge metal plate to place under the rocket to deflect the flames and keep the launch pad intact but it wasn’t ready in time and the engineers felt the concrete wouldn’t be too badly damaged.

They were obviously wrong.

Washington Post:

SpaceX had been hoping to launch another Starship within “a few months,” Musk had said. But that will depend on how widespread the damage is and how quickly SpaceX can repair it. The company may also decide to make the launch mount on which the rocket sits more resilient as well as installing a more robust water deluge system to dampen the acoustic vibrations.

Musk wrote on Twitter Friday that three months ago the company started to build “a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount.” But he said that it “wasn’t ready in time” and the company had hoped the concrete under the rocket would survive the first launch. Still, Musk added that it “looks like we can be ready to launch again in 1 to 2 months.” But even Musk has said he is often overly optimistic in his timeline predictions.

“SpaceX moves fast when they see what needs to be fixed,” Abhi Tripathi, a former SpaceX mission director, wrote on Twitter. “I assume they will address the launch site findings with the same importance they show to the Starship design issues. Got to think of it in terms of a whole system.”

Hot Air’s John Sexton, who dug up the tweets showing the damage to the launch pad, thinks that fixing the glitches that ended up destroying Starship might not be that difficult.

So, on the negative side, this launch destroyed the launch pad, damaged the tank farm and probably did a lot of damage to the rocket itself in the first seconds of liftoff. On the upside, this one problem might account for a significant number of the failures that happened yesterday including the separation failure. If so, it’s a relatively easy fix, at least in theory.

Musk says he’ll try again in two months but that’s probably optimistic.

Even though Starship only flew for four minutes, it’s an incredible achievement to get it off the ground at all. The bird has twice the thrust of the rocket that took us to the Moon, it’s 80 feet taller, it can lift 200,000 lbs into earth orbit, and it’s reusable.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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