What we know about the unsuccessful SpaceX Starship SN11 flight

The SaceX SN11 Starship prototype is the fourth in less than four months to be launched successful but fail to be recovered.
The SpaceX SN11 Starship prototype was launched on a foggy Texas morning on March 30 | Image credit: SpaceX (YouTube)

With a fourth launch in less than four months, SpaceX and Elon Musk discovered another way how not to land a Starship prototype.

The SN11 Starship prototype was launched from the SpaceX Boca Chica facility on March 30. Through a foggy Texas morning, the rocket climbed to an altitude of approximately 10 kilometers before descending back down to Earth.

The SN11 prototype successfully performed the “bellyflop” manoeuvre which is used to bleed off speed before its Raptor engines are re-ignited for the landing burn.

Five minutes and forty-nine seconds after liftoff shortly after engine re-ignition, the live feed from the cameras froze. Despite there being no visuals, audio continued to stream. Approximately ten seconds after the live feed was lost with the vehicle under one kilometre from the ground, an audible explosion could be heard.

Despite the auditory clue, the exact fate of the SN11 vehicle was not initially forthcoming as the landing pad was obscured by thick fog. As the dust settled, onlookers nearby began to find wreckage of what would turn out to be a large debris field.

In a statement following the incident, SpaceX said that SN11 had experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” shortly after the landing burn started.

As has become standard, SpaceX’s mercurial founder and CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter in what has become a forum for unofficial debriefings following Starship flights.

Replying to questions, Musk stated that SN11’s engine 2 had run into some trouble during ascent resulting in it being unable to reach chamber pressure during the landing burn. However, he added that this was likely not what caused the explosion stating, “something significant happened shortly after landing burn start.”

SpaceX is currently investigating the incident reviewing data as they work towards the next flight.

The SN15 Starship prototype is to be the next on the block and is expected to be rolled out to the launch pad in the next few days. According to Musk, this prototype will include hundreds of design improvements to the vehicle’s structure, avionics, software and engines.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.