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Starship SN11 explodes as SpaceX tries low-visibility landing
by Paul Hill
Images via SpaceX The Starship SN11 mission was supposed to be the mission where SpaceX fixed the errors from the Starship SN10 mission and performed a flawless landing, instead, the company went for a landing attempt in low-visibility conditions and the rocket ended up failing for an as yet unconfirmed reason. The official live feed went dead five minutes and 49 seconds into launch but third-party feeds managed to capture the explosion.
According to Elon Musk, it looks as though there were some problems with engine 2 and that "something significant" happened after the landing burn but it's not clear what until more investigations have been carried out.
SN11 was the firm’s fourth attempt at landing the rocket after flying to an altitude of 10 km. The mission was delayed twice in total, first last Friday and then yesterday. The second delay was caused by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after its inspector was unable to reach the launch site in time.
Had the mission been delayed today, the firm would have had to have waited until Friday before it could get the go-ahead to launch. It also had several hours left today before the launch window closed so it could have waited to see whether the fog cleared but ultimately it decided to take the risk of launching. SpaceX had concerns that if it had waited, winds could have picked up making a launch unviable.
It’s unclear when SpaceX will be conducting its next Starship launch but we should probably expect it in the next few weeks if the previous launches are anything to go by. The firm really does need to nail the landing process soon as it wants to try out the rocket on orbital and lunar flights in the coming months and years. Be sure to follow This Week in Rocket Launches for any updates on the Starship-front.
TWIRL 5: Starship SN11 could launch sometime this week
by Paul Hill
Welcome to the fifth instalment of This Week in Rocket Launches, this week has a packed schedule thanks to a few launch delays and a possible Starship SN11 launch by SpaceX. Glavkosmos will attempt to launch the Korean CAS500 satellite, Rocket Lab could finally launch the BlackSky Global 7 satellite, SpaceX has several missions penciled in, OneWeb wants to launch several internet satellites, India and a Chinese firm are looking at launches too.
The first launches of the week, on Monday, will be from Glavkosmos and possibly Rocket Lab. The Glavkosmos mission will take the Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) into orbit along with Astroscale’s ELSA-d debris removal demonstration mission. The launch was scrubbed from last week but hopefully, it can get off the launch pad tomorrow. You can find a live stream on YouTube.
Rocket Lab’s ‘They Go Up So Fast’ mission has been a possibility for several weeks now. The launch could take off early this week from New Zealand but it’s not definite. The mission consists of an Electron rocket launching a BlackSky Global satellite alongside several other satellites. The BlackSky satellite constellation is made up of 1-metre resolution Earth observation microsatellites that are useful for ground observation. If Rocket Lab’s mission goes ahead, you can find a live stream on its website.
Wednesday is the earliest time we’ll see the launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN11, according to the Neowin forums. SpaceX wants to do a static fire test at the start of the week and if all goes according to plan, it can attempt a launch on Wednesday or Thursday. SpaceX was almost able to do a successful landing of its Starship SN10 rocket earlier this month but it ultimately exploded due to a fire. All of the SpaceX flights this week will be live-streamed and shared on the SpaceX website.
On Wednesday, SpaceX will also be trying again with its Falcon 9 B5 rocket to launch a batch of Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. This mission was mentioned in TWIRL 4 but was delayed. As the end goal, SpaceX wants to have 30,000 Starlink satellites in orbit around the Earth to beam internet connectivity down to those in areas that are hard to connect. The firm also has a separate Starlink mission to launch the day after.
On Thursday, India will launch its EOS 3 satellite that is designed to provide continuous remote sensing observations over India from a geostationary orbit. It will be taken into space using India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which has received several modifications that are being used for the first time.
Also on Thursday, China’s state-run ExPace will launch a Kuaizhou KZ-10 rocket with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28). The 230kg satellite will be used to take full-colour images from a 535km-high operational orbit to complement other satellites that are already in orbit as part of the commercial Jilin 1 constellation.
The final launch of the week will be a Soyuz 2.1b which will carry 36 OneWeb internet communication satellites. The satellites will go into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 450km. OneWeb, which is now owned by the British government, announced plans earlier in the week to help deliver Wi-Fi to aeroplanes from its satellites; those being launched this week will contribute to connecting those planes to the net.
TWIRL 4: Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket set for maiden flight
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, it's expected that there will be around five rocket launches from the likes of Firefly Aerospace, SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Glavkosmos. The most interesting launch will be that of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket which is making its maiden flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which we have been saying will launch for the last two weeks, still hasn’t launched yet but could do on Monday.
Firefly Alpha The first launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket will be carrying commercial payloads for Benchmark Space Systems and AstroGrams. The mission will also deploy a Spinnaker 3 dragsail prototype. In its first launch, the Alpha rocket will carry several projects from the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM) programme which gives students and small companies a way to put their payloads in space.
The rocket has been delayed several times since late 2019 so hopefully, it can perform the flight on Monday as planned. If it does get it off the ground it will fly a ‘dogleg’ inclination which is considered to be a safer option, protecting those near to the base, at the expense of more fuel being used.
Also on Monday, Rocket Lab could launch its Electron rocket carrying the Blacksky Global 7 satellite and SpaceX is expected to send up a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying the SXM 8 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM’s digital audio radio service (DARS). The SXM 8 will carry a large unfurlable antenna reflector which permits radio broadcasts to be sent back down to Earth without the need for a large dish receiver on the ground. It will be replacing the XM 4 satellite and has a lifespan of 15 years.
On Saturday next week, another Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will take off, this time carrying 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Whereas Rocket Lab has been continually delaying its latest planned launch, SpaceX is in fact bringing this launch forward. It was initially planned to take place sometime in the second quarter.
The final launch of the week comes from Glavkosmos, a Roscosmos subsidiary, which is flying a Soyuz 2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying two Korean CAS500 (Compact Advanced Satellite 500) satellites. These are designed for the observation of Earth and were built by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. The Soyuz rocket will also be taking several other satellites into orbit as well as Astroscale’s ELSA-d active debris removal demo mission.
Finally, SpaceX’s Starship SN11 could launch soon but we do not know when. If you’d like to follow all the latest developments on this front, be sure to check out the Neowin forum thread which is updated regularly by the Neowin community.
By Ather Fawaz
Lack of thrust and an ad hoc solution to SN8's explosion led to Starship SN10's fiery ending
by Ather Fawaz
Less than a week ago, SpaceX almost succeeded in completing a flawless test flight for the Starship SN10. And things were looking up until a few moments after a successful ascent and touchdown back to earth. Just like the SN8 and SN9 predecessors before it, SN10 too met a fiery, explosive ending.
It was unclear why the rocket exploded, especially after it had touched down and remained stationary for close to a minute. SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has now cleared up some confusion on that front. Musk tweeted that "the SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from the fuel header tank." And that the prototype plummeted towards the earth at an impact velocity of 10m/s that crushed some legs and parts of the skirt.
As spotted by Engadget, Chris Bergin of NASA Spaceflight pointed out that the helium ingestion was caused by the pressurization system that was added to the CH4 tank to prevent what caused the SN8 to explode. Musk replied to Bergin stating that this was a reasonable point, and that "...if autogenous pressurization had been used, CH4 bubbles would most likely have reverted to liquid. 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."
Despite this, the SN10's touchdown represents a big step forward for the Starship program and SpaceX at large. The firm was quick on bringing the next prototype, the SN11, to the stand at Boca Chica, preparing for its test flight sometime later. As Austin Barnard photographed, the team of engineers on-site inspected every landing leg of the SN11. SpaceX hopes that the insight gained from its predecessors, including the SN10, will be used to do away with past mistakes and progress towards a successful test flight for the SN11.
TWIRL 3: Rocket Lab to attempt launch of delayed mission
by Paul Hill
Last week was quite good for SpaceX with it almost successfully landing its Starship rocket during a test, unfortunately, it caught fire and exploded on the pad. Rocket Lab also had to delay its “They Go Up So Fast” mission which we covered in This Week in Rocket Launches #2 but will make another go of it this week.
Aside from Rocket Lab’s mission to put several satellites into orbit, there will be two SpaceX launches carrying more satellites for the Starlink constellation as well as a Chinese mission carrying an experimental satellite called Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 which replaces a satellite that was lost last year.
Rocket Lab’s launch will be performed by one of its Electron rockets, it will carry the Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats named Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. Electron rockets are very light, weighing in at just 12,500 kg; this is probably where the inspiration for the name of the mission came from. The launch will be live-streamed on the company’s website on or around Wednesday if the launch goes ahead.
On Wednesday and Saturday, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 rockets, both carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Internally, the missions are known as Starlink V1.0-L20 and Starlink V1.0-L21 respectively and the total payload mass weighs in at 15.6 tonnes with each satellite weighing 260 kg. There are 1141 Starlink satellites in orbit but the firm plans to orbit nearer 10,000 satellites eventually before ramping the number up above 30,000 so we’ll see these launches for a long time. To watch these launches, check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel which will carry recordings if you miss the live events.
Before SpaceX’s second launch, China will send up its Long March CZ-7A carrying the Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 satellite. The satellite is experimental and a part of a series of demonstration missions being carried out by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). As is typical with Chinese launches, video and photos of the launch will appear online following the launch but there likely will be no live stream.
There are plenty more rocket launches every week for the remainder of the month so be sure to look out for next week’s This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL).