SpaceX's Starship has been grounded by the U.S. government following claims that the rocket's explosive first launch spread plumes of potentially hazardous debris over homes and the habitats of endangered animals.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — the U.S. civil aviation regulator — has stopped SpaceX from conducting any further launches until it has concluded a "mishap investigation" into Starship's April 20 test launch. The massive rocket’s dramatic flight began by punching a crater into the concrete beneath the launchpad and ended when the giant rocket exploded in mid-air around 4 minutes later.
"The FAA will oversee the mishap investigation of the Starship/Super Heavy test mission," FAA officials wrote in a statement on April 20. "A return to flight of the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations."
Dust and debris from the test reportedly rained down on residents in Port Isabel, Texas — a town roughly 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the launchpad — and across Boca Chica's beaches, which are nesting grounds for endangered animals, including birds and sea turtles.
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Dave Cortez, a chapter director for the Sierra Club environmental advocacy group, said that Port Isabel residents reported broken windows in their businesses and ash-like particles covering their homes and schools.
SpaceX's launchpad was also left with extensive damage that includes charred, twisted metal and shattered concrete. The force from the rocket's engines blew a hole in the launchpad and created a crater beneath it. "Concrete shot out into the ocean," Cortez told CNBC, creating shrapnel that "risked hitting the fuel storage tanks which are these silos adjacent to the launch pad."
Unlike other launch sites for large rockets, SpaceX’s Boca Chica site lacks both a deluge system, which floods pads with shockwave-suppressing water or foam, and a flame trench to safely channel burning exhaust away.
"Aspiring to have no flame diverter in Boca, but this could turn out to be a mistake," SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote in an October 2020 tweet.
The FAA's mishap investigation is standard practice when rockets go astray. The FAA’s investigation will need to conclude that Starship does not affect public safety before it can launch again. As debris spread far further than anticipated, the FAA's "anomaly response plan" has also come into force, meaning SpaceX must complete extra "environmental mitigations" before reapplying for its launch license.
Musk wrote on Twitter that SpaceX began work on "a massive water-cooled, steel plate to go under the launch mount" three months prior to the launch, but it wasn't ready in time.
"Looks like we can be ready to launch again in 1 to 2 months," he added.
Standing at 394 feet (120 meters) tall and propelled by a record-breaking 16.5 million pounds (7.5 million kilograms) of thrust, SpaceX's Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. Able to carry 10 times the payload of SpaceX's current Falcon 9 rockets, Starship was designed to transport crew members, spacecraft, satellites and cargo to locations in the solar system.
After blasting off from its launchpad at Boca Chica, Starship climbed to a maximum altitude of 24 miles (39 km) before problems with as many as eight of the rocket's 33 Raptor 2 engines caused Starship to flip and roll, leading SpaceX to order the rocket to self-destruct.
Despite the rocket's unexpectedly messy takeoff and fiery demise, SpaceX and Musk have hailed the test as a success that enabled engineers to gather essential data for the next launch. On April 16, four days before the test, Musk lowered expectations, warning in a Twitter discussion that if any of the rocket's engines went wrong "it's like having a box of grenades, really big grenades."
"This is really kind of the sort of first step in a very long journey that will require many, many flights," Musk said. "For those that have followed the history of Falcon 9, and Falcon 1 actually, and our attempts at reusability, I think it might have been close to 20 attempts before we actually recovered a stage. And then it took many more flights before we had reusability that was meaningful, where we didn't have to rebuild the whole rocket."
This story was provided by Live Science.
My research shows that a 1K ton of TNT equivalent explosion will send a shockwave that 5 miles out will be 170db. This is equivalent to 1/16 of Nagasaki. Its roughly the same as the Texas City port blast. Or twice the blast of a Saturn 5. Think instant hearing loss, organ and brain damage for folks at the 5 mile "safe" perimeter. And, possible surface max earthquake of 3-5. Are the high rises of South Padre Island ready for that?
The failed launch last week was very close to being a launchpad explosion had a few more engines shutdown due to flying debris... and the Starship gracefully sunk back to the launchpad crushing the fuel tanks.
The sound pressure level assessment provided for the license only accounts for what the public will encounter in a nominal launch.
Cape Canaveral has 4x more distance to surrounding public homes than Boca Chica, but the Starship with Super Heavy Booster is twice has blast potential than Saturn 5, the rocket that put man on the moon. Seems like there is a story to write about as to why Elon does not launch his Starship with Super Heavy Booster from the "safer" location.
Hopefully, this new license will include the launchpad explosion scenario and the public can finally see the numbers of what to be prepared for in sound level and anticipated property damage. This is many times louder than rock concert if 170db? Yeah, the animals are going to really get organ damage that are within the 5 mile zone.
The licensing process last time included letting the public ask questions. There were no questions about what happens in a launchpad explosion. The public did not know to ask that question because they assume the government is looking out for them?
The chart in 3.1 seems to indicate about a 10% mapping of fuel weight to TNT yield. So a 1k ton of rocket fuel would be 100 ton TNT explosion.
Not small, but also not 1/21 of Nagasaki, which FYI was 21kT not 16kT (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Man). LittleBoy/Hiroshima was 15kT
Who is being misleading here? This is directly from the above article:
"The FAA will oversee the mishap investigation of the Starship/Super Heavy test mission," FAA officials wrote in a statement on April 20(opens in new tab). "A return to flight of the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations."
Where is the misleading part in the article? I'll tell you where the misleading part is, it is Elon Musk / SpaceX stating any damage resulting from a mishap would be limited to within 1-square mile of the launch site. When in fact, there is damage /debris/toxicity spread over 6-square miles from the launch site. Did you see the damage to the fuel tanks near the site? This came very close to being a catastrophe.
"SpaceX could have prevented the damage, but it disregarded building better launch infrastructure, says Eric Roesch. He is an environmental compliance specialist who blogs about SpaceX. For one, he says, the company did not invest in proven launch infrastructure, like a flame trench, which diverts most of the thrust of the rocket."
"It sure seemed like the decision to not do these very basic channels or flame protection or systems that you see everywhere else was a matter of convenience."
"Roesch says SpaceX was too eager to launch its largest rocket. CEO Elon Musk said a steel plate was supposed to go under the launch pad, but it wasn't ready in time. SpaceX thought the concrete would hold based on the static fire test held in February, but that test was only at 50% thrust. Roesch says that the environmental review SpaceX gave to the FAA underestimated Starship's power. What the company called a successful launch actually caused as much damage it had predicted for a full-on explosion on the launchpad."
"Besides grounding the Starship program, the FAA has activated its mishap response plan. It requires SpaceX to work with state and federal agencies to remove the debris and survey the damage. In a statement, the agency says it will make sure SpaceX complies with environmental regulations."
All because Musk lies about every project he is working on, from his Boring company, to Tesla and SpaceX. He feels he is above everyone and does not have to follow the rules / laws everyone else does.
I thought it was clear from the launch attempt that a flip was expected as part of separating from the booster. Now it's because of problems with some of the engines?