“Today has been an incredibly successful day so far, even with the RUD of the Super Heavy booster,” Kate Tice, SpaceX quality systems engineer, said during the company’s webcast.
But before Starship could reach orbit, SpaceX’s mission control lost contact with it and stopped receiving data. Approximately 12 minutes into the flight, the automated flight termination system activated, canceling the flight and also causing the second stage to experience a RUD.
If Starship had flown successfully, it would have reached an altitude of approximately 146 miles and was expected to crash around 8:30 a.m. Central Time off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.
This is the second time a Starship test flight has started promisingly but failed several minutes into the flight. According to a statement on the the company’s website, SpaceX later determined that in the first minutes of the April flight, propellant leaked from the Super Heavy booster and caused fires that severed the connection with the main flight computer. This is why the upper stage and booster failed to separate, SpaceX concluded. The engineers lost control of the vehicle and had to abort, causing the rocket to explode along with the flight termination system.
The first, brief test flight on April 20 “enabled many lessons to be learned,” according to SpaceX officials. said in a statement published on the company’s website on November 10. The April explosion destroyed the launch pad, causing SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to described as a “rock tornado” and debris rained down on the surrounding area. As a result, SpaceX and the US Federal Aviation Administration conducted a joint “accident investigation”. Officials from NASA and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board served as observers. The FAA completed this process on September 8, stating that SpaceX must treat 63 problems to mitigate debris, redesign the vehicle’s hardware to prevent fires and leaks, and redesign the launch pad before Starship can fly again.
SpaceX’s subsequent improvements to the rocket included “a hot stage separation system and an electronic thrust vector control system for the Super Heavy’s engines”, and their launch infrastructure improvements included “reinforcements to the plinth foundation and a water-cooled steel flame deflector.” », According to the press release of November 10.
Meanwhile, as part of the process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was tasked with reviewing the local environmental effects of the upgraded Boca Chica launch site, located next to a wildlife refuge and public beach. The agency began this review in October. Several threatened and endangered species live in the area, including the Gulf Coast jaguarundi, ocelot, five species of sea turtle, and birds such as the piping plover, red knot, and northern aplomado falcon.