SpaceX SN11 Failure Found, Next Test Vehicle Readied


Last week’s flight of SpaceX’s Starship SN11 ended literally with a bang after a successful ascent and trademark “belly flop” descent. Company CEO Elon Musk reported on Twitter yesterday, “Ascent phase, transition to horizontal & control during free fall were good. A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine 2 & fried part of avionics, causing hard start attempting landing burn in CH4 turbopump. This is getting fixed 6 ways to Sunday.”

Decoding Musk: CH4 is methane, the “fuel” portion of the propellants used in the Raptor rocket motor; the other is liquid oxygen, which oxidizes the methane. “Hard start” refers to the condition when the rocket motor is ignited with too much propellant, which can lead to RUD, or rapid unscheduled disassembly, in the parlance of our times. Only one Starship has “stuck the landing” so far, though it exploded on the pad shortly after touchdown.

SpaceX has completed Starship SN15 (it is skipping a few numbers here) that is due to roll out to the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, this week with a series of “unspecified” modifications. NASA Spaceflight reports that “one of the mostly unspecified modifications involves the engines, which are being aided by an increased test cadence at SpaceX’s McGregor test site. The center is currently constructing two additional vertical Raptor test stands to increase throughput.”

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

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  1. I’m, sure this is a fixable problem and with enough tries and money thrown at it will eventually fly, but that does not diminish my distain for Musk. With that said I’m sure he has hired engineers who have training and capability.

    • Musk is that rare combination of intelligence and complete idiocy, with a big dollop of a-hole thrown in for good measure. I agree with you about him. But SpaceX has a lot of very smart people and I hope they will succeed in spite of the bozo at the top.

      • Neither of you seem to realize what it takes to get big things done: something big at the top. I’ll guarantee that NASA/Boeing spent a lot more money getting 35-year-old shuttle engines updated than Musk has spent on the entire Starship project.
        Most visionaries are nutters, and 90% of them get nothing done. Having Musk in our lives is a net positive, even if you just come for the crashes.
        Except that the crashes will stop.

  2. It has been said that a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into. I suppose the same can be said for space!

  3. I’ll bet, if the press covered every one of Edison’s failed lightbulbs, folks in his day would have thought him a bozo too; folks in our day undoubtedly would consider him great even so.

    • I absolutely disagree.

      Edison was a racist anti-Semitic prick. His success was predicated more on bipolar mania and massive OCD and narcissism than it was on intelligence. Much like Elon.

      • And Henry Ford had his predilections, as unsavory as some may have been. So? If what you say contributed to his success, so be it. BTW, unlike, say, Jeff Bezos, Elon is fully qualified to work at his own company as an engineer. He actually can, as they say, “do the math”, unlike certain recent political figures (all of them) who believe that simply saying it will be so will make it so.

      • Wow. OK I must throw some input in here…just registered, that’s how important this is.

        1) Thin line between genius and insanity. I advise you research that phenomenon.

        2) Not to mitigate the issue, but many people, genius or not, were “racist antisemitic (sic) pricks” at that point in cultural evolution.

        3) Elon has already acknowledged that he is bi-polar. That does take some cajones in this world.

        4) I’m bi-polar type 2 with an OCD component. Many of my best ideas (proven through “peer review (bleh!)” have originated during a manic episode.

        But yeah he’ll thrown money at the problem. Final advice: Think outside your universe.


      • It’s also been said that Edison was not above “embellishing” the ideas of others as his own. The lightbulb being one of them.

    • Absolutely.

      If tax money was not used to subsidize Tesla and Space X I’m be much less vehement in my opposition to them, and electric cars in general.

      • If it were an open playing field then I would agree with you. Lest we forget the subsidies, tax credits, and behind the scenes political shenanigans that the existing aerospace and automobile industrial complex engages in to keep upstarts, competitors and innovators at bay.

      • I hope your opposition to the tax subsidies extends to the fossil fuel industry. $20B per annum in the US alone.

  4. Whatever you think of Elon Musk as an individual, if one only looks at results, he looks pretty spectacular.

    NASA has a boatload of really smart people. Regardless, the NASA space programs, both manned and unmanned, languished after Apollo. The Shuttle was a very flawed system. Along comes this guy who changes the way we do business (PayPal) as a way to fund other things. Then he touches electric vehicles (Tesla), solar power systems, and spaceflight (SpaceX), advancing all those industries as well. Back in teh 1950s we were told what to expect as we moved into space. As a result of Musk and SpaceX, we finally have the space program we were told to expect.

    So, the way it looks to me, Musk has the technical Midas touch. Maybe he is not the brightest bulb in the SpaceX box, but from where I sit, it sure looks like he has the kind of intelligence needed to make ALL this stuff happen. Please add my name to the list of people who would put ‘Musk’ next to Edison, Westinghouse, Marconi, and Wright as names that have changed the technological direction of the world.

  5. I would also put Musk next to Edison, but see above to understand what I think about Edison. I actually think that’s an apt comparison.

  6. But does Musk have seven-ways-to whenever development processes so that fixes are stable and don’t mess up something else?

    Not likely from a hyping subsidy freeloader. (Besides other subsidies, he gets money from other car companies via government penalties on them.)

    • A development process that ensures that you never encounter an error is one where you’re in development forever and never flying/driving. That is the traditional waterfall approach to development. SpaceX and Tesla have both embraced the Agile form of development. Where the axiom is “Fail fast/Fail often”. Instead of long development cycles where you ensure all features are complete before testing you instead have very short, iterative project “sprints” that you know aren’t complete or perfect, but through these shorter iterations you gain knowledge through the testing and failures much more quickly than you can with the traditional approaches

      • I agree with this to an extent and see your point.

        The problem comes from Tesla turning early adopters into beta testers with poorly made, failure prone, inferior products.

        Examples would be bumpers falling off Model 3’s being driven home from delivery, roofs flying off Model Y’s, suspension falling off Model S and X’s, and ‘autopilots’ driving into embankments, semi-trucks, fire trucks, and police cars, and Teslas burning to the ground while parked or charging.

  7. What ever you want to say about Musk, Tesla and Space X at the end of the day Millions of dollars have been spent and earned all of which have been taxed in one way or another. And just like the Space Race of the 60’s which was funded by the government, billions of dollars were made by spinoffs from the technology developed, SpaceX and Tesla will lead to other spinoffs and technology that will be used by others. I rather have more CEO’s like Musk than the Accountants that are running most of cooperate America that only know faster and cheaper, cut all development at all cost to make a buck for the share holders now.