For all of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s excitement about Starship’s orbital test flight, launched last week shelved the project for the time being.
Shortly after Thursday’s test flight ended in a ball of firereports have revealed that FAA Grounded Starship as he investigates the reason for the explosion and others examine the potential health and safety hazards it created.
The FAA confirmed in an April 20 statement: “An anomaly occurred during the ascent and prior to stage separation resulting in the loss of the vehicle. No injuries or damage to public property were reported. The FAA will oversee the Starship/Super Heavy test mission accident investigation.
An FAA spokesperson said FLYING This accident investigationswhich are the norm in cases like this, “could be concluded within weeks”, but more complex investigations “could take several months”.
It is unclear where the spacecraft explosion falls on this spectrum. But we are beginning to get an idea of the effects of the launch on the surroundings.
Although Musk warned before launch that The ship would probably explodetelling listeners in an April 16 Spaces Twitter that it would be “a hit” if it didn’t destroy the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, the impact of the test flight appears to be greater than SpaceX predicted. .
Shattered panes and ash-like particles during launch have been reported as far as Port Isabel, a town of about 5,000 people six miles from the launch pad, and South Padre Island, where spectators watched the test flight from about five miles away. Residents of Port Isabel also reported shaking buildingsresemble the aftermath of a spaceship explosion in 2022.
The debris field was should extend 700 acres, or a radius of about a mile, equivalent to the size of the resulting debris field from Starship’s biggest explosion yet.
Getting reports from multiple people now of ‘particle’ rain in areas of Port Isabel after the explosion near the SpaceX Starship/Superheavy rocket stack, 4 minutes after liftoff this morning from Boca Chica in the Valley of the Rio Grande. pic.twitter.com/Vb9ritd7JE
—Pablo De La Rosa (@pblodlr) April 20, 2023
The town of Port Isabel said that there is no “immediate concern for people’s health”, but that environmental groups are holding their judgment until a full investigation can be completed.
Spokespersons for the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity noted that particulate emissions can be hazardous to touch or breathe, and samples will need to be taken and examined to allay any concerns.
Experts are also concerned about the impact on the surrounding environment and ecosystem, which is home to several endangered species. These animals could be vulnerable not only to debris, but also to the sound of the launch. Journalist Lavie Ohana, who was present for the test flight, called him “one of the loudest launches I have ever attended.”
Particles falling at Port Isabel minutes after launch. @Elon Musk #SpaceX #Spatialship #Starbase #TLPNetwork #TLPCrew pic.twitter.com/mu5hKmbih6
– The launch pad (@TLPN_Official) April 20, 2023
Eric Roesch, environmental engineer and former regulator who runs the ESGHound blog, noted that the launch tower is a few hundred yards from a protected habitat owned by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
And according to data Roesch obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via a Freedom of Information Act request, a static fire test in February — essentially a test run for the test flight — produced significantly more noise than expected. by SpaceX. Intensity readings three miles from the test site reached 110 decibels, the equivalent of standing next to a jackhammer, according to the agency. This test was performed at 50% of full thrust.
Roesch also pointed out that the Boca Chica launch pad doesn’t have a flame trench or water deluge system, features found at most other large venues that help suppress the heat and sound of launches. . NASA space shuttle orbiterfor example, took off over a flame trench.
Some, like Roesch, have criticized the FAA’s willingness to go ahead with the launch given these concerns. Although the agency asked SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate the environmental impact of the test flight, Roesch predicted that the launch would be tougher than expected, and it looks like it wasn’t far off.
As the FAA digs deeper into the safety of Starship operations, SpaceX has another hurdle to overcome. While it appeared that the infrastructure supporting Starship had avoided the same fate as the rocket itself, it later became clear that the launch pad suffered significant damage.
The force of the rocket and the lack of a trench underneath created a huge crater under the launcher, which could render it unusable for months. musk on twitter speculated that “the force of the engines as they accelerated may have shattered the concrete, rather than simply eroding it”.
Musk also said that SpaceX had previously planned to install a water-cooled steel plate under the launch vehicle, but abandoned it because it “wasn’t ready in time”, adding that “we mistakenly thought , based on static fire data, which Fondag [concrete] would go through 1 launch.
Musk also offered a timeline for the next launch: one to two months. But even if SpaceX is able to fix the dashboard during that time, it will still need FAA approval to run another test.
The good news for SpaceX is that the relationship between the space exploration company and government regulators appears to be intact. Tuesday, the company got US Space Force approval to add a fifth US launch site, signaling the government’s continued interest in working with Musk and SpaceX.
There’s that plus the company collaborations with NASA on other missions, such as resupply trips to the International Space Station using SpaceX’s Dragon. Chances are that NASA and SpaceX will continue to work together for the foreseeable future. What remains to be seen, however, is how long the FAA will give them.