Musk Blows The Lid Off Of Starship Explosion – Says SpaceX Loaded It With Too Much Fuel

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After its representative shared new details about the third test flight of Starship earlier this week, SpaceX’s chief Elon Musk revealed why SpaceX’s second stage Starship exploded during its second test flight last month. Starship is the world’s biggest rocket, and the November launch saw the second stage ship successfully hot-stage separate from the first stage and make its way to space. However, its mission was not a complete success, as the second stage did explode after successfully flying post stage separation for some time.

According to Musk, the explosion took place because SpaceX had to vent excess oxygen out of the ship. Testing new rockets typically sees companies use a mass simulator for a payload to simulate flight conditions, and Musk added that the explosion could have been avoided had SpaceX used an actual payload for orbital delivery.

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Musk revealed the reason behind the anomaly in SpaceX’s company talk. A little over a third of the talk shared by SpaceX on its X page covered Starship. SpaceX’s future depends on Starship since not only is the rocket essential for the firm to build out its Starlink internet satellite constellation, but it will also conduct lunar missions for NASA and eventual crewed Mars flights.

SpaceX’s latest Starship test took place in November, and while it saw the rocket successfully lift off and complete stage separation, the rest of the test saw both the first and second stages explode at different times and far away from each other.

Musk shared details about the second stage’s explosion, revealing that the cause of the anomaly was SpaceX itself. He outlined that during liftoff, SpaceX had fully filled the Starship’s second stage with liquid oxygen and methane. Once the firm tried to vent this oxygen during flight, the Starship’s second stage exploded, explained the executive.

Musk during SpaceX’s company talk yesterday. Image: SpaceX/X

According to Musk:

So, flight 2 actually almost made it to orbit. So, in fact, ironically if it had a payload, it would have made it to orbit because the reason that it actually didn’t quite make it to orbit was we vented the liquid oxygen. And the liquid oxygen [inaudible] led to fire and an explosion, because we wanted to vent the liquid oxygen because we normally wouldn’t have that liquid oxygen if we had a payload. So, ironically, if it had a payload, it would have reached orbit. And so I think we’ve got a really got short of reaching orbit with flight 3, and then a rapid cadence to achieve full and rapid reusablity.

Flying Starship’s second stage with the weight to represent a payload was necessary for SpaceX’s November second Starship test flight since it had to test the correct thrust specifications for lift-off and stage separation. A lighter rocket requires less power whenever engines are involved. For test launches, depending on the objectives, it has to match flight specifications to ensure performance at the correct requirements.

SpaceX’s Starship comes as the firm has launched 42 astronauts to space with the Dragon program. Details present in Musk’s presentation also revealed that SpaceX now serves 2.3 million Starlink customers all over the world, and the executive shared that Starlink connectivity will come to more countries later this year.

As for the future, SpaceX’s aim is to save time and be hardware-free to expedite Starship development, according to Musk. He thanked NASA for entrusting SpaceX with the task of taking crew to the Moon and outlined that SpaceX eventually aims to fly 200 tons to orbit regularly with Starship.

For its NASA commitments, SpaceX has to demonstrate on-orbit refueling, and Musk reiterated that SpaceX plans to conduct multiple tests for the Artemis Moon program. These are an in-space engine burn from Starship’s header tank and propellant transfer from the header tank to the main tank. The Starship second stage’s header tanks are located inside its nose cone, and it has one for fuel and oxidizer each. They are essential to orient the ship for landing and provide a steady flow of propellants to the engines during the perilous process of descent.

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