Thursday, March 4, 2021

And the SN10 Clean Up Begins

With no official words from SpaceX about exactly what appears to have failed that caused SN10 to RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), we can turn to the unofficial sources we have.  In terms of what happened, I went to Scott Manley, who seems to have good track record.  In this video, he does some of the things I've seen him do before. He gets videos from several sources and watches them frame by frame.  Watch this.  It has some great shots in it.  I'll wait.   

I think a big important clue is the legs not deploying and locking into position.  The Starship lands hard and even noticeably bounces, as some of us said yesterday.  If all of the legs had been locked in position, it might have withstood that better, but with only three of the six locking in place I think they all would have collapsed.  In the still frames showing SN10 on the ground, it appears to be sitting with its base on the concrete pad, not on its legs. 

Another big, important clue is that fire on the side of 10 as she's getting ready to land.  That gets bigger, and continues even with the fire suppression system spraying water.  There's evidence of a methane leak, a plumbing problem, that started when the two unneeded engines were shut down.  SN10 lands trailing fire out the side.  Once it was on the ground, it seems possible some amount of fire continued, eventually leading to the final conflagration. 

That said, I agree with Scott that this is a validation of the entire landing sequence - from a belly flop to vertical, powered landing.  (I've seen some commenter somewhere refer to this maneuver as a Crazy Elon.  I'm assuming the phrase is meant to echo the Crazy Ivan maneuver.  That term started in submarines as response to a Russian captain, but now is widely used.)

Meanwhile, we know that SpaceX Boca Chica has started working on clearing debris.  Bluto the giant crane was moved to the landing pad area today, and there are reports that work has begun.  One thing that seems to be positive here is that the pieces are much bigger and fewer than the pieces SN9 left.  

Photo by Mary, @bocachicagal, of course. 

Due to having morning commitments that required a night's sleep, we didn't get up for the 3:24 AM launch of Starlink-17 but the "most delayed" Falcon 9 mission went off without a hitch, successfully placing another 60 Starlink satellites in orbit and recovering Falcon 9 booster B1049 for the eighth time.  We did watch the highlights in this SpaceX video this morning.  

For unknown reasons, it was announced in advance that the video from the booster would not be available, so that most of what I consider the interesting things to watch weren't there to watch.  There was a brief video image of the booster on the deck of the recovery drone, but the camera cut out as it was just about to land (the camera cutout happens most of the time).  We don't know if this is a new policy, if something was wrong in the hardware somewhere, or exactly what was going on.  I just hope they don't keep this policy.  

The next Starlink launch is set for Sunday night at a more friendly time for us: 10:41 PM EST.  I'm hoping the booster cameras are back for the mission.


  1. Made me think of Crazy Eddie from The Mote In God's Eye.

    Love that book.

  2. And still, from Blue Origins, not even the sound of crickets...

    Yeah. Elon basically stated he didn't expect SN10 to survive the landing. That it did, when there was obviously something wrong going on, is nigh unto remarkable.

    SN10 did validate all the procedures from launch, reduce engines, cut engines, restart all three engines and land. Though the landing was a tad... harsh, and left SN10 with a noticeable lean.

    Musk says that SN15 series will have a stronger bigger landing legs, and the production series will be getter and stronger still.

  3. Musk says that SN15 series will have a stronger bigger landing legs, and the production series will be getter and stronger still.

    Thanks for relaying that; sounds like what we were thinking about with going bigger, stronger. It appears they're going with #11, bringing it to the test stand by early next week. I'd like to see them jump to #15, but maybe there are still tests worth doing even if they lose it.

    1. I always thought the 'crush zone' legs were a tad spindly.

      And there needs to be just a tad bit more work done on the whole relighting and landing thing.

      From what I saw of the downside leg of the flight, looks like something was burning underneath when they shut down the other two engines. Suspicions on my part are fueled by the way the fire built out of one side of the ship before she blew.

      Will be interesting to see what next happens.

  4. Wonder how much better it would have fared if the three floppy legs had locked into position?

    Tune in next week!

  5. I only want success from SpaceX. It's unrealistic, I know. And design changes come as a result of failures, not success. Still and all, I'm interested in a full postmortem too.

  6. Proof that space travel is totally unforgiving of any errors....errors in design, in engineering, in manufacturing or in implementation. And as long as that remains reality, the risks of climbing in and out of our gravity well makes space travel remain risky and rare.

  7. Congratulations to Spacex.

    Wilbur Wright on the importance of experiment and testing in engineering design:

    At least someone is DOING something.