Failure?.. Success! How to evaluate the Elon Musk spaceship catastrophe

Failure?.. Success! How to evaluate the Elon Musk spaceship catastrophe

10 December 2020, 18:40Technology
Despite the failure at landing, the Starship prototype fulfilled all the other tasks assigned to it during the test test.

As you know, the test flight of the prototype Starship spacecraft by Elon Musk ended in failure - the device took off, but exploded upon landing. The cause of the accident, as the media clarifies, was not an engine malfunction, but a low fuel pressure in the small tank in the bow of the ship, which made the landing speed too high.

Despite this, the founder of SpaceX, which designed and built this ship, Elon Musk considered the experience a success. As part of the test, a flight to an altitude of 12.5 km was performed, followed by shutdown and restart of the engines to return to the vertical position and an attempt to land on the launch pad.

The Russian media and social networks evaluated this event differently. Many noted not without gloating that Elon Musk had already learned a thing or two from Dmitry Rogozin, who heads Roscosmos and had not yet been noted for any significant achievements, but only scandals, for example, around the inglorious construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome. So Musk, like Rogozin, is already wishful thinking, skeptics reacted. But not all.

So, a technical expert and a popular blogger who writes a lot about space, Vitaly Yegorov, commented on this event:

“SpaceX's rocket exploded again” today will be written in our media, modestly hiding under the cut the fact of the successful testing of all stages of its flight. The giant rocket, 9 meters in diameter and 50 meters in height, was able to climb 12 km using three Raptor oxygen-methane engines. At altitude, the rocket engines were switched off one by one, and the orientation gas engines put the rocket into the aerodynamic descent mode.

Previously, SpaceX used the "airplane" landing scheme only for the Falcon 9 nose fairing flaps. At the last stage of the descent, the orientation engines put the rocket back into vertical landing mode, but only two of the three propulsion engines started up, as a result it was not possible to extinguish the vertical speed. Although, according to Elon Musk, only two engines were supposed to work on landing, and the reason for the crash was insufficient pressure in the fuel tanks. The impact on the ground occurred exactly at the planned landing site. An incredible success considering the relatively "artisanal" assembly in the open field, private funding for the project, previous test failures and short development period.

It's too early to put this test on a par with the landing of the Space Shuttle or Buran, but SpaceX is getting closer to comparing and surpassing the achievements of the "great civilizations of the past". The method of trial and error and the accumulation of experience gives the result, now it does not seem fantastic that the next Starship prototype will reach space next year..."


There is no evidence that Musk has dropped or is about to give up. On the contrary, he is full of energy and plans. For instance. Two days ago, at night (!), He convened a meeting of all participants in his ambitious space project at his SpaceX spacecraft plant in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. On Sunday night, he wanted to know from his team why his factory was not working around the clock to build the Starship faster. The engineering team explained to Musk that they needed more people on shifts. The result was not long in coming: within the next 48 hours, SpaceX hired 252 workers, doubling the staff at this plant, according to Ars Technica.

No wonder SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said not so long ago:

“There is no doubt that Elon is very aggressive in his plans, but it makes us do things better and faster. I think that all the money in the world does not give a solution, so it is very important to put pressure on the team..."

Musk himself commented on his nocturnal act:

"There are much easier places to work, but no one has ever changed the world in 40 hours a week..."

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