June 25, 2024

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Musk claims that venting liquid oxygen caused the spacecraft to explode • The Record

Musk claims that venting liquid oxygen caused the spacecraft to explode • The Record

SpaceX President Elon Musk blamed a lack of payload coupled with a liquid oxygen vent for last year's fiery end to the second flight of the company's Starship and Super Heavy constellation.

during Company update Posted on X (formerly Twitter) by SpaceX, Musk spent an hour telling the faithful about the company's accomplishments and his dreams of interplanetary spaceflight. He also provided an update on what happened on the last flight.

“If it had a payload, it would have gotten into orbit,” he said. “Because the reason it didn’t get into orbit is because we vented the liquid oxygen, and the liquid oxygen eventually led to a fire and an explosion. … We wouldn’t normally have that liquid oxygen if we had it.” “Payload. Ironically, if he had payload, he would have reached orbit.”

Hmm. This writer is no rocket scientist, but something exploding due to a vent sounds…bad. Musk did not explain how the vent caused the fire, only explaining that things would have gone differently if there had been a payload. Presumably, this is due to the Raptor's engines consuming liquid oxygen.

However, the iterative approach used by SpaceX means lessons will be learned, and Musk was keen to point out that the rocket did not destroy the launch pad this time. Using a deluge of water to mitigate launch impacts has been a staple of launches for decades, but it took creating a crater for Musk and his colleagues to learn that exact lesson.

The next launch could take place next month, although that depends on the issuance of a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Musk told his audience that he thinks there's a good chance of reaching orbit this time, and listed a bunch of exciting goals for the third flight. In addition to sending the rocket into orbit without exploding, SpaceX intends to demonstrate the engine burning in space and prove that it can also deorbit the rocket.

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It also wants to test the transfer of propellant between tanks — a key milestone for SpaceX's role in NASA's Artemis program — and demonstrate the “Pez Dispenser” payload door planned for full-sized Starlink satellites.

NASA recently confirmed that the Artemis program has been faltering, and the first crewed landing is now scheduled for September 2026. Despite Musk's desire to close the gap between Starship launches and pick up the pace, SpaceX could certainly use the extra time. ®