Story at a glance

  • The Starship SN10 launched from the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on March 3. Minutes later, the stainless steel rocket ship was destroyed in a fiery explosion.
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday explained the rocket touched down at too high a speed.
  • “SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank. Impact of 10m/s [22 miles per hour] crushed legs & part of skirt."

Last week, private rocket company SpaceX got as close as it's ever been to successfully carrying out a soft landing of a reusable heavy lift rocket it hopes to one day send to the moon and Mars. 

The Starship SN10 launched from the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on March 3, ascending to an altitude of more than 32,000 feet before making its way back to Earth in a controlled descent. 


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When the spacecraft touched down on its landing pad without perishing in a fireball like its two predecessors, it seemed that SpaceX nailed one of the most challenging processes in making a reusable, cost-effective rocket. 

Minutes later, the stainless steel rocket ship was destroyed in a fiery explosion. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday explained the rocket touched down at too high a speed. 

“SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank. Impact of [22 miles per hour] crushed legs & part of skirt,” he tweeted

A closer look at the landing of SN10 shows it was slightly leaning to one side before exploding. 

Musk went on to explain that the helium ingestion was probably the result of a pressurization system that had been added to the methane header tank to fix a problem that occurred in a previous starship prototype, SN8. 

“If autogenous pressurization had been used, CH4 bubbles would most likely have reverted to liquid,” he said. “Helium in header was used to prevent ullage collapse from slosh, which happened in prior flight. My fault for approving. Sounded good at the time.”

The test, however, was still hailed as a success as SN10 landed and remained in one piece significantly longer than two earlier prototypes that exploded on impact. 

Wasting little time, another Starship prototype dubbed SN11 was rolled out onto the launchpad this week. 

SpaceX has yet to say exactly when the next flight test will take place, but NASASpaceFlight.com projected the rocket could be ready to go as soon as next week. 

Before SN11 was placed on the launch mount, SpaceX employees were seen testing the spacecraft’s legs. 

“Multiple fixes in work for SN11,” Musk tweeted. 

Musk has said this week that Starship will be ready to launch humans into orbit and beyond by 2023


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Published on Mar 10, 2021