Per aspera ad astra: SpaceX Starship SN 11 Launch

30th May 2022
Per aspera ad astra: SpaceX Starship SN 11 Launch

Despite the 60-year history of space exploration, humanity still does not have reusable spacecraft for interplanetary missions. Yes, the Americans landed on the moon six times, but these missions were difficult, dangerous and incredibly expensive. Elon Musk and SpaceX are going to address this challenge. The company is building a rocket of the future that will be able to deliver people to the Moon and Mars, make a controlled landing on their surface and return back to Earth!

This is not science fiction, but a very real and tangible Starship. SpaceX is building the largest spacecraft ever — something that has never been seen before. 120 meters high and 9 meters in diameter, the spacecraft will be able to carry 100 tonnes of payload and up to 100 astronauts. And its launch will be unprecedentedly low — $2 million ($20 per 1 kg). Just think about it — you can buy a ticket to Mars for only $1500-2000!

The journey of the Starship has not been easy, full of trial and error. We’ll talk about the event that turned the tide of testing and made Elon Musk’s dream of Mars colonisation tangible — the SpaceX Starship SN 11 Launch.

Big F..king Rocket

Elon Musk announced the creation of a fast, powerful and, most importantly, a cheap rocket for the colonisation of Mars and the Moon back in 2005. He named it Big Falcon Rocket or Big F*cking Rocket but ended up changing the name and design several times. The latest modification of Starship with two wings and retractable landing legs under them was presented on 28th September 2019. And already in November, the first tests began at the SpaceX launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. At the moment, 18 of them have been carried out, half of which ended in failure. But the SN11 Starship launch made the most noise.

SN11 SpaceX launch date and time

The fully assembled SpaceX SN11 launch prototype was installed on the pad on 8th March 2021, and passed its first static fire test on 22nd March. During the SN launch test, one of the three Raptor engines failed and had to be replaced. On Friday morning, 26th March, SpaceX conducted a second static fire test and declared flight readiness.

The first Starship SN11 launch date was scheduled for 29th March 2021. But the launch had to be delayed because the FAA inspector in charge of the flight could not make it to the SpaceX Starbase in time. Therefore SN11 new launch date, along with SN11 launch time, had been rescheduled to 30th March.

SN11 launch window was open from 12:00 to 20:00 UTC. The prototype test flight included three phases:

  1. Lift-off and reaching 10km altitude.
  2. Transition to a horizontal position and controlled descent with the help of aerodynamic rudders.
  3. “Belly flop” manoeuvre (transition to a vertical position) and a smooth landing on the platform.

The Starship SN11 launch time occurred exactly at 13.00; the prototype successfully broke away from the launch pad and, after reaching a predetermined altitude, made a turn to a horizontal position, starting a descent to the landing site. At 5 minutes 48 seconds into the flight, SN11 re-ignited its first engine for a controlled landing, but a second later, communication with the ship was lost. In this same moment, one could hear a roar, and debris started falling from the sky.

Let’s watch the historical SN11 launch video

15 minutes long SN11 launch video

Did Starship 11 explode? Yes. Even on the climbing trajectory, one of the Raptor engines burst into flames from the pipeline near the combustion chamber and turbopump (a strong fire flash can be seen at 06:14). The SpaceX launch SN11 situation got worse on reaching the highest trajectory point. Smoke shrouded the engines, and the picture froze, so what happened next was unclear.

NASA’s Spaceflight website also hosted SN11 Launch live from its camera located near the launch pad. It shows the Starship wreckage flying by. One of the commentators mentions that the debris even touched the camera, and one large (spherical smoking object) flew by very close.

Full Video of the Starship SN11 launch

Full replay of the SN11 launch from Boca Chica

What happened to SN11 Starship?

SN11 crash

Credit: Jack Beyer,

So, what happened to SpaceX Starship? Why did SN11 fail? According to Elon Musk’s tweet, the failure was caused by a fuel leak. It created a fire in one of the three Raptor engines, causing damage to the electronic control unit, which in turn led to a pressure surge in one of the turbopumps at the time of engine start.

When did SN11 explode?

In the third phase, when trying to land. Musk took this failure with a touch of humour, writing that the explosion crater was in the right place.

It is worth noting that the Starship 11 launch took place in next-to-zero visibility conditions caused by thick fog, but despite this, the prototype successfully passed the first two phases of the launch.

When will Starship SN11 launch again?

So, when will SN11 launch again? Never. SN abbreviation stands for Serial Number of Prototype. Starship SN11 was destroyed during the flight test launch and could not be repaired. The same fate befell ten previous prototypes. Some were destroyed during the tests, and some became scrap metal, but SN 2 and SN 7.2 survived and were put on display.

When failures temper

SpaceX SN11 launch was, without exaggeration, a turning point in the history of the Starship creation. It resulted in fixing old flaws and helped obtain the FAA license, necessary for moving on to the next testing stage.

On 5th May 2021, SpaceX already launched SN15. Compared to the SN11, the prototype received a significant upgrade: new avionics, fuel supply system, and improved engine design. SN15 successfully passed all flight stages, including landing on the supports. At the time of landing, the release of methane vapour caused a fire in the engine compartment, but the regular fire extinguishing system quickly extinguished it.

Today SpaceX is almost ready for the Starship SN20 Launch. The new prototype is equipped with a Booster 4 and six Raptor engines, three of which have vacuum nozzles. The windward side is fully lined with thermal protection plates. In 2022, Starship SN20 will make an orbital flight, after which it will land on a floating platform near Kawai Island. If everything goes well, we will witness a revolution in the history of space launches. And its name is SpaceX Starship!

You can become part of this revolution! Follow the SpaceX Starship launch timeline together with Orbital Today!

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