Update : SpaceX has released an official statement indicating that Starship Mk1's November 20 failure came after a decision to intentionally push the rocket prototype to its limits. This probably means that the test was to max flight pressure and not an intentional burst test, so Starship's dome failure is still a significant problem and was definitely not planned.
More importantly, SpaceX says it had already decided to go back to Starship Mk1 before any form of flight testing, and treat the vehicle as a viewfinder. Instead, SpaceX will build and use Starship Mk3 – the next Boca Chica prototype ̵
SpaceX statement about the above test and incident: pic .twitter.com / r1ReRYhUhz
– Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) November 21, 2019
SpaceX's first full-scale Starship prototype has suffered a significant failure during testing, destruction or serious damage to large parts of the rocket. However, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has already commented on the deviation and is not all that concerned.
On November 20, SpaceX – after interrupting a planned closure of the road the day before – unexpectedly requested a closing of the last second and was included in a much more serious testing round with Starship Mk1, the rocket's first full-scale prototype. This followed the testing on November 18 that ended with Starship Mk1's very first & # 39; breath & # 39; – some venting activity near the end of a tank test. SpaceX engineers spent the next 36 hours inspecting and working on the Mk1, probably looking for and patching minor leaks along its tank section.
The November 20 testing progressed much faster than the previous test round and Starship Mk1 was quickly aired again. Shortly after that, frost began to appear on the outside of its liquid oxygen and methane tanks, a clear sign that some form of cryogenic testing is underway. Based on a clear lack of activity at the nearby floss stack, SpaceX used liquid oxygen (LOX) or liquid nitrogen (LN2) to verify that Starship works as expected when filled with supercool fuel.
After initial aeration and visible frost formation, SpaceX seemed to be pushing forward, quickly loading Starship Mk1 with LOX or LN2. This progress was easily visible thanks to the fact that the mass and pressure of all the cryogenic liquid did a quick job of the small imperfections on the outside of the Starship steel hull, turning the vehicle's reflection from a stained patchwork to an almost mirror-like finish. About half an hour later, the otherwise peaceful scene was interrupted by the rapid failure of the Starship Mk1's upper LOX tank dome, which was immediately thrown several hundred feet into the air.
Seconds later, the crumpled upper half of the Starship Mk1's tank section emerged from the clouds creating and starting to bleed a huge volume of liquid oxygen, boiling immediately and evaporating when exposed to the earth's comparatively white atmosphere. Impressively, Starship seemed to remain functional after its peak literally blew off, and the vehicle quickly loosened and appeared to be safe. About ten minutes after the overpressure event, the released liquid oxygen had boiled to nothing and Starship seemed silent.
According to all appearances, Starship Mk1 seemed to function extremely well as an integrated system until its upper tank dome failed. The first frame from LabPadre's stream of visible visibility explicitly implies the weld that connects the LOX dome to the cylindrical body of Starship & # 39; s LOX tank, pointing to a poor weld joint as the most likely source of failure. Although this hardware failure is unfortunate, Mk1's loss will hopefully lead to improvements in Starship's design and manufacturing procedures.
Minutes after the anomaly was broadcast on several unofficial habitats in SpaceX's Boca Chica facilities, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that Starship Mk1 failed in a tweet and telegraphed a general lack of concern. Note that Musk indicated that Mk1 was valuable primarily as a manufacturing route finder, completely credible but also partially contradict his presentation in September 2019, where he stated quite clearly that Mk1 would soon be launched to ~ 20 km to demonstrate Starship's exotic new skydiver landing strategy
Musk says that instead of repairing Starship Mk1, SpaceX's Boca Chica team will go directly to Starship Mk3, a significantly more advanced design that has benefited of the many lessons learned from building and flying Starhopper and producing Starship Mk1. The first Starship Mk3 ring seems to have already prepared, but SpaceX's South Texas focus has clearly been almost entirely on preparing Starship Mk1 for rehearsal for wet dress, static fire and flight testing. After today's failure, it sounds like Mk1 will probably retire early and be replaced by Mk3 as soon as possible.
Above all, the most important takeaway from today's Starship Mk1 anomaly is that the vehicle was a very early prototype and SpaceX probably wants car errors to occur on the ground or during the flight. As long as no people are at risk, the drive of Starship to failure (or suffering from planned failures like today's) can only benefit and improve the vehicle's design, especially when the failed hardware can be recovered intact (ish) and carefully analyzed.
A step further, SpaceX is simultaneously building a second (and third) Starship prototype on its companion Cocoa, Florida facilities, and Starship Mk2 is almost complete. In summary, technicians installed their last tank dome – the same dome that failed on Mk1 – just a few days ago, and all the insight that the Boca Chica team can gather from Mk1's problems will almost certainly be applied to the Mk2, whether that means reinforcing its existing domes or completely replaces the upper dome with an improved design.
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