back to article Another successful flight for SpaceX's Starship apart from the landing-in-one-piece thing

SpaceX continued its rich tradition of destroying Starship prototypes with SN11 succumbing to an explosive end during a high-altitude flight test. Originally planned for 29 March, the test flight from the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas, had been postponed until this morning because a Federal Aviation Administrator ( …

  1. Zola
    Mushroom

    SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

    "Throw it at the wall and see what sticks."

    Literally. Or until the money runs (handy then that the owner has a bottom pit of cash).

    And they really think they're going to to put people inside this. I can't wait for the Corporate Manslaughter charges. Or will the idiot millionaire/billionaire space tourists sign away all their rights because they believe in the Cult of Musk? Most probably.

    "I'm a con-man, or maybe I'm a God..."

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

      So would you prefer the NASA approach of spending $50 billion and they've only been able the light the engines 1 and a half times after 10 years of work?

      How about the NASA approach of "no, it's impossible to recover a booster, it takes too much fuel, that's just common sense"?

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

        How about the NASA approach of "no, it's impossible to recover a booster, it takes too much fuel, that's just common sense"?

        Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. I'd love to see a real cost comparison for the different approaches, but that would get very complicated. So SRBs vs liquid fuel would have a lot of different costs/benefits, and presumably it'd be a tad complicated to reliably shut down and relight an SRB vs liquid. Then there'd be costs to recover & refurbish engines vs making low-cost, disposable ones.

        But I guess my main gripe is vertical landings aren't really anything new, ie the DC-X predated Space-X, but wasn't pursued for various reasons. So if those include it's just safer/cheaper to go with space planes instead, and if Starship will end up morphing into a Shuttle Mk2. But I guess even that includes a whole bunch of different costs, like real-estate's cheaper for vertical landings than buying/leasing long runways for a space plane.

        But it's mostly fun to watch. This launch wasn't exactly great visibility, but cameras managed to capture clanging and spanging from low flying chunks of stainless steel. It'll be interesting to see if the weather played any part in SN-11's demise. I was a bit suprised it wasn't scrubbed anyway, but I guess data from a suboptimal launch is useful.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          People are already questioning the SpaceX math which doesn't come anywhere close to what has been promised.

          Musk claims he can get launches per passenger down to sub-$1000 (to compete with jet airliners) yet he's still charging more per launch (per cubic Kg of payload) than the final Space Shuttle.

          And the SpaceX failure rate is way, way too high (even the projected 1% failure rate is far too high for his sub-orbital passenger airline plans). Only the gullible and fully signed up members of the Musk Cult are buying his nonsense.

          I'm not knocking Musk for trying, I'm knocking him because he's mostly talking bullshit (hyperloop, anyone? Or cars in tunnels?) and getting away with it because people aren't calling him out on it. And what he's doing with SpaceX is nothing new, he's just iterating on old, existing technology - some of it 40+ years old. Most of it Russian.

          Look at SABRE and Skylon for the radical, new and innovative. Not SpaceX.

          1. Jim Mitchell Silver badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "Look at SABRE and Skylon for the radical, new and innovative."

            Let me know when they have their next launch live-streamed on YouTube!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Let me know when they have their next launch

              I was at a talk recently where they (people involved with the projects) estimated it would be up to 40 years (yes, no typo) before it was in service.

              1. briesmith

                Re: Let me know when they have their next launch

                Just in time for fusion power then?

                1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

                  Re: Let me know when they have their next launch

                  You think?

          2. chrisw67

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "cubic Kg of payload"? I am afraid I will not understand until this is in Register approved units.

            1. rg287 Silver badge

              Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

              "cubic Kg of payload"? I am afraid I will not understand until this is in Register approved units.

              I don't think expressing it in Grapefruit-Jubs is going to help.

          3. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "Look at SABRE and Skylon for the radical, new and innovative."

            New as is conceived more than 40 years ago and so far only tested as discrete component stages and no integrated motor with pre-cooler has run yet? Reaction were formed in 1989. It has

            Unfortunately, British R&D means British investors who are shit-scared to invest and therefore snail-pace development. The guy who came up with the idea retired 4 years ago, they've had 32 years already. There's no chance of a pre-cooled motor being in service in 8 years from now. I'll be shocked if one flies subsonic on a test airframe with three other turbofans to help it. Actually, I'll be shocked if an integrated motor runs on a test stand.

            It was reported as something good when RR invested £20 million in RAL. I'm guessing one SpaceX Starship test launch costs more than that.

            Unless somebody grows some balls and gives it real backing, RAL are nothing more than a long term academic study.

          4. OAB

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "yet he's still charging more per launch (per cubic Kg of payload) than the final Space Shuttle."

            Do you have a source for that? The only way I can get the numbers even close is ignoring inflation and including the Shuttle itself in 'payload', and SpaceX is still a bit cheaper (also this is 'cost of launch' v 'what we can charge the customer').

            1. James Hughes 1

              Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

              There won't be a source, it's nonsense.

              You only need to apply common sense. People are flocking to use the F9. SpaceX use the F9 for Starlink. Musk is not stupid and doesn't suffer from the "sunk cost fallacy". If it wasn't cheaper to reuse, they would not be reusing. And it's certainly cheaper than all the other providers.

              As for the comment above about using solids. Just no. You cannot turn them off once lit. They are a dead end for manned spaceflight and more expensive than the Kerolox they use on the F9.

              1. awavey

                Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                the Space Shuttle cost an estimated 300-400million dollars per launch, SpaceX charge 62million dollars to launch Falcon 9 commercially. divide by max payload capacity for LEO as that was the average mission target for Shuttle, and Shuttle costs just under 14000 dollars per kg, Falcon 9 costs just under 3000 dollars per kg.

                but then is it even worth debating numbers with people who think you can turn Solid Rocket Boosters on and off again.?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                  "but then is it even worth debating numbers with people who think you can turn Solid Rocket Boosters on and off again.?"

                  Well, let's be fair, he did say it would be a tad complicated. (Ok, ok... inventing something to bend the laws of physics may be more than a *tad* complicated).

                  1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                    Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                    Well, let's be fair, he did say it would be a tad complicated. (Ok, ok... inventing something to bend the laws of physics may be more than a *tad* complicated).

                    I leave that kind of thing to Elon and ventures like Hypeloop, or Starship being a viable sub-orbital/intercontinental ballistic missile*. And yes, my bad for leaving off a /sarc tag.

                    *Actually, and ICBM version would be easier than a passenger transport. And given SpaceX claims it's passenger version can turnaround vehicles faster than airlines, SRBs might be more practical for launches given their longer shelf-life for filling. Just insert rocket motors and away it goes. Ok, so that would be a bit like the easily swappable battery packs EVs were supposed to have to match ICE refuelling times, but dropped for being a.. tad complicated.

                2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                  "the Space Shuttle cost an estimated 300-400million dollars per launch, SpaceX charge 62million dollars to launch Falcon 9 commercially. divide by max payload capacity for LEO as that was the average mission target for Shuttle, and Shuttle costs just under 14000 dollars per kg, Falcon 9 costs just under 3000 dollars per kg."

                  Where did you get the $/kg figure? SX charges more than that. The F9 can't carry 207,000kg of cargo ($62m/$3,000)

                  For a good comparison, you need to compare $/kg for people and cargo on the Shuttle. It also carried far more mass so the cost per launch figures aren't valid. There is also a whole bunch of mass needed for life support on the Shuttle to keep ~7 people alive for a mission.

                  The hardest part is leaving Earth. SRBs are used to get a huge initial mass into orbit so turning them off to be used again later isn't necessary. SRB's don't throttle either so they aren't useful for decent except in a very minor way that hasn't been tried yet (afaik). Once out of Earth's gravity well, getting anywhere is much easier.

              2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                Musk is not stupid and doesn't suffer from the "sunk cost fallacy". If it wasn't cheaper to reuse, they would not be reusing. And it's certainly cheaper than all the other providers.

                Show me the money. We might have to wait until the SpaceX IPO and prospectus for that though. And one could be cynical and wonder where the Raptors in Starships come from, because none of those seem reusable, yet.

                1. rg287 Silver badge

                  Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                  Show me the money.

                  SpaceX bought the world's largest composite-forming mandrel, and then dumped it for scrap when they decided to build StarShip out of stainless instead of carbon composite.

                  If there's one thing Musk is not guilty of, it's getting sucked down a sunk-cost rabbit-hole.

                  1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                    Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                    SpaceX bought the world's largest composite-forming mandrel, and then dumped it for scrap when they decided to build StarShip out of stainless instead of carbon composite.

                    Even though it looks odd, stainless steel seems a lot more practical during the prototyping phase. I watch these videos-

                    https://www.youtube.com/c/NASASpaceflightVideos/videos

                    which are quite fascinating. SN-15 apparently has a lot of internal redesign and I guess it's a lot easier to be able to weld stuff to it's skin than with composite. And on the money side, easier to sell the scrap.

                    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                      "And on the money side, easier to sell the scrap."

                      heheheheheh. Yep. Swatches of composites are landfill, but the metal can be melted down, rolled out and used for SN37.

                2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                  "We might have to wait until the SpaceX IPO"

                  Don't hold your breath. With a tight group of devoted investors, Elon can get away with dreams of Mars and blowing up lots of hardware. As a publicly traded company, he'd be constantly facing lawsuits for wasting money. I have yet to see a business plan that shows putting people on Mars will have a financial return. Even if the surface was covered in precious metals, it might not make financial sense. I'd love to see humans make it to Mars and back, but it would be pure science. I don't think it should be attempted until a colony has been established on the moon and techniques are developed to keep people healthy in reduced G/ Zero G. There is also a ton of engineering that needs to be done on life support for a group far away from Earth.

              3. RegGuy1 Silver badge

                Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                You only need to apply common sense.

                Well common sense tells you heavy things won't fly. But at the start of the 20th century someone said common sense is bollocks. And a few years ago I used to fly all over the place installing rack systems weighing at least 600 kg (that's heavy!) and often more; what amazed me every time was these had been made in the US and flown to their destination because that was the most cost effective way of moving these things around the planet.

                I've always been amazed at this!

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

              "Do you have a source for that? "

              I believe that you can look it up on Wikipedia. They even give you figures adjusted for inflation.

          5. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "Look at SABRE and Skylon for the radical, new and innovative. Not SpaceX."

            Sabre/Skylon - and hotol.....

            both of which were being pushed back in the 1980s by Alan Bond

            Have THEY flown yet?

        2. NeilPost Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          It’s a really neat party trick, but probably pushing (even the bleeding edge) of current Rocket Science past it’s limits. Yes it needs to continue and develop this but perhaps it needs a next generation of engine technology to become ‘every day’ and stick with Shuttle-type for glide/landing.

          1. James Hughes 1

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            Which is exactly what they are doing - the Raptor is brand new tech using the FFSC cycle. But they won't go for wings, they are a heavy waste of payload.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

              FFSC is brand new tech? Someone should tell the Russians that first developed it in the 1960s.

              1. rg287 Silver badge

                Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

                Someone should tell the Russians that first developed it in the 1960s.

                On paper.

                SpaceX are the only people to fly a FFSC engine. Lots of people have designed fusion reactors on paper - but the team that successfully builds a net-positive reactor will be the ones to go down into the history books.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

        "How about the NASA approach of "no, it's impossible to recover a booster, it takes too much fuel, that's just common sense"?"

        It's not often economic to land a first stage booster. Every gram lifted by a rocket is hugely expensive. To carry landing legs, extra fuel and deploy a barge out to sea along with needing to perform a lengthy inspection before the next flight can be be much too much money that would go along with the added risk. The rockets also have to be built with more margin to be reusable which means more mass.

        Even SpaceX has to splash vehicles from time to time when the mission requires all the performance of the F9 sans landing capability. NASA missions are generally launched via the vehicle that has required Delta V with just a bit of margin. They aren't ordering a much bigger rocket with the intent of getting the shell back. For a return to the moon, it's more advantageous to lift more payload than to maybe save a few bucks reusing a booster.

        NASA was landing rockets in the 1960's with the Surveyor missions to the moon. The Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge had several entries with Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space System taking the prizes for prototype landers. Check out the flight on YouTube. Yeah, they only went up 50m, but altitude isn't a factor. Going higher is a matter of a larger gas tank and bigger engines. Landing on a rocket flame is the tough part.

    2. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

      The first road vehicle (the Puffing Devil) exploded when parked outside a pub.

      The first jet engine couldn't be stopped, it carried on accelerating even after they turned off the fuel supply.

      The Falcon 9 exploded regularly when attempting landing, and it's now the only rocket 1st stage to be regularly reused. And, you know, it can now carry people.

      Plenty of new things are too dangerous to put people in, on or near. Then they get improved until they're reliable enough to do the job safely.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

        Chemical rockets are nothing new (close to 100 years old). SpaceX are just iterating on rocket designs from 40+ years ago.

        Landing rockets is admittedly impressive, but you've got to admit it's fast becoming "reactionary engineering" - they're responding to the failures and designing out the flaws rather than predicting and designing out the flaws prior to build and then launch. Yes, the latter takes longer but should result in more reliable and successful designs.

        At the moment it's hard to have faith in rockets designed the SpaceX way, especially when they expect to make them man rated. A new never-before-seen launch scenario occurs and the entire rocket is lost because the effort isn't being put in on the drawing board, it's just working it out as you go along. But hey, at least the next one will be fine - they'll just tweak the design of the next rocket etc. and cross their fingers, right? Because that's so how it feels.

        1. Sanctimonious Prick
          Mushroom

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          Oh. Right. So you're comparing SpaceX with Apple? Go back to your dial-up landline Internet access, fool!

          These tests by SpaceX have NOT cost a single life. The only cost is to Mr. THE BEST PERSON ON THE FUCKING FACE OF THIS PLANET Musk, and his investors.

          What did it cost you? Oh... apologies.. you... what... wasted a few hours watching the NASASpaceFlight YouTube feed? Diddums.

          Meanwhite, the rest of the planet sees this as a massive step towards the future of human space flight to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

          I still have my old Netcomm 2400 baud modem - it's yours!

        2. Sanctimonious Prick
          Alert

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          @AC

          I invoke the Black Eyed Peas.

          (icon is a weapon of violence)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            @Sanctimonious Prick

            > I invoke the Black Eyed Peas.

            Well, if we're invoking pop culture, here's my suggestion:

            "You went full retard, man. Never go full retard."

            Feeling better now, Elon?

        3. HildyJ Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          Boeing has been "designing out the flaws" for 10 years and they still haven't managed an untethered flight.

          Meanwhile, SpaceX has developed, tested, and flown three launch vehicles (the Starship is the fourth). They have developed, tested, and launched three spacecraft, one of them man rated (the Starship will be the fourth). Also note that the single engine Starship test flights were successful, including landing. It's the triple engine flights that are still being worked out.

          Designing out the flaws didn't work for Apollo 1 or Apollo 13 or Space Shuttle Challenger or Space Shuttle Columbia because you can only design out flaws you can think of in advance. Think of it as designing out all the security holes or all the software bugs in a system.

          SpaceX is not engaging in 'spaghetti engineering', it's engaging in destructive testing. It's an engineering concept that has been around for years.

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            Space Shuttle Challenger or Space Shuttle Columbia because you can only design out flaws you can think of in advance.

            Strictly speaking, they knew full well of those problems in advance, which says nothing good about NASA management. The Space Shuttle was a magnificent, beautiful and glorious death trap - and everybody knew it even before STS-1 launched. Horizontal integration, SRBs (that had no business being anywhere near a manned spacecraft) and no viable launch abort options below abort-to-orbit. If the orbiter itself were compromised, there was no sensible way of separating astronauts from the vehicle.

          2. Sanctimonious Prick
            Holmes

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            I understand when people believe things are impossible. At some point though, the impossible thinkers have to accept the impossible is possible, and Mr. Elon Musk has proven that, time, and time again. Yet, people still say Mr. Elon Musk cannot do the impossible, yet... the proof is there for everyone the world over to see that he, Mr. Elon Musk, IS, our present great mind of the world that knows too much than he should, but he works with it, and he gives it to us, regardless.

            I cannot think of a single person alive today that can stand taller that Mr. Elon Musk's gift to the world that he is.

            (screw my English!)

          3. Sanctimonious Prick
            Thumb Up

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            @HildyJ

            Damnit! Well said!

        4. The Basis of everything is...
          Mushroom

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          Chemical rockets have been around for a bit more than 100 years. The Chinese used "fire arrows" against the Mongols at the battle of Kai-Keng in 1232. Says NASA.

          https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/TRC/Rockets/history_of_rockets.html

          1. WhereAmI?

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            Hmm. That page needs updating - Laika died within hours from overheating, but the Soviets (of course) could not admit this until 2002.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laika

        5. batfink Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          This is prototyping. And the reason it's being used is that Musk can afford to lose the prototypes until they get it right.

          NASA are using the "sort out all the bugs before we try it" approach because (a) they are working on a limited budget and (b) the Murrican public aren't going to like the sight of their tax dollars being blown up in spectacular fashion.

          1. James Hughes 1

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            The SpaceX approach is STILL cheaper than the NASA approach, and much quicker. These SS prototypes are not expensive at all in the general scheme of things. Look at SLS, in development for over a decade, still not flown, and estimated to cost a billion per launch at least. Now look at Starship, started development less than 5 years ago, already had four launches, albeit not fully successful, but the progress rate is WAY faster than SLS. And it will be reusable, and cheap to fly.

          2. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "(a) they are working on a limited budget and (b) the Murrican public aren't going to like the sight of their tax dollars being blown up in spectacular fashion."

            I've got to disagree with your points on that one. NASA is part of the US Military Industrial Complex. They get all their funding by distributing all the work around the US to keep the economy going.

            While NASA has alot of REALLY intelligent people those people could explain how blowing up all the tax dollars is cheaper in the long run. The problem is most of the higher up's are intelligent enough to know that if they went down the same route as Musk the nice non-exec roles with Boeing and similar suppliers would no longer be waiting for them.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

            "NASA are using the "sort out all the bugs before we try it" approach because (a) they are working on a limited budget "

            My guess is that SX has turned over $1bn into small bits of scrap metal thus far. Having been in the rocket business, I can see that on SN11 they still have pressure management issues that haven't been resolved and also continue to have fires in the engine cluster.

            One would expect in iterating the design that time is spent after each test to analyze the issues and make fixes before the next one is built. SX doesn't seem to do this.

        6. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

          "they're responding to the failures and designing out the flaws rather than predicting and designing out the flaws prior to build and then launch. "

          There's the old "assumptions you didn't know you were making" that says some empirical testing needs to be done. It's true that many of the issue SpaceX seems to be working through are things that should have been caught prior to building hardware. One figure I saw being touted was one Starship costing around $250mn all in. The facility is somewhat remote so everything has be trucked in and out from fuel to run generators to the contents of the portable toilets going the other way.

          I just talked with a photographer today that was at the SN10 explosion in the fog. By the time he was able to get to the site, he found that it was an all hands call to comb the area for parts and pieces by SpaceX employees and contractors. They are smack inside a wildlife refuge and can't close it off outside of short windows to the public so they needed to do a rapid clean up to defeat souvenir hunters.

    3. stiine Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

      Except for the cost, and the fact that I can't afford it, I'd sign up for the first trip. In fact, If they want a passenger on the first to-space-and-back test flight on their new booster, sign me up.

    4. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

      It's a prototype, version 0.2 probably. Nobody's asking you or anyone else to ride it.

    5. MikeC711

      Re: SpaceX have turned rocket science into Spaghetti Engineering

      It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

      Theodore Roosevelt

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpKSgneSAeo

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    "more Monty Python"

    Considering he's the only person/company/entity to reliably land rockets on a small barge in the middle of the ocean... I do not feel qualified to throw stones.

    It's amazing how quickly people forget how many boosters crashed before that feat was accomplished.

    ("Tall poppy syndrome" and "I can't do it, so nobody else should even try" is a pet peeve of mine)

  3. Binraider Bronze badge

    I have plenty of time for this form of testing. Right up to the 1960s flight test meant building something and flying it. Iterative design. Look at the pace of progress from 1910 to 1970. Trying to over analyse everything on paper takes bloody ages, misses things and prevents progress. FAA will no doubt be overbearing on their investigation again... What's the problem if it's not a risk to life to test like this?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Over analyse everything

      An example could be the flying boondoggle that is the F35, been modeled to Hades and back several times over and what have they got?

      "Lockheed Martin F-35 deficiencies: two fewer in 2020, 871 issues remain."

      The Technoking may be a bit of an arse at times but SpaceX has gone out of the box in many respects and IS moving forward, more than can be said for the SLS/Boeing circus.

      1. batfink Silver badge

        Re: Over analyse everything

        I agree with your sentiments, but there is a notable difference between the examples here.

        Musk is burning money on his SpaceX programme. The F35 programme is designed to be a source of income, not expenditure...

        1. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

          Re: Over analyse everything

          "The F35 programme is designed to be a source of income FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE" FTFY

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      ". FAA will no doubt be overbearing on their investigation again... What's the problem if it's not a risk to life to test like this?"

      There are two cities nearby that one of these rockets could easily land on. The FAA doesn't care if it crashes on top of SpaceX's site, but it cares greatly that uninvolved public aren't in harm's way. I'm very surprised that SX rammed through getting the site approved. They are surrounded by protected wetlands.

  4. Muscleguy Silver badge

    It matters because Musk has stated that he wants to got to Mars in this thing. Okay Mars gravity is less than Earth gravity but the atmosphere seems to change density which would explain the death rate of Mars probes. Starship takes off fine, it travels fine, it just cannot land fine.

    He wants to go to Mars in it? Will they be relying on autopilot on Mars or like the Eagle landing on Luna will they have a test pilot on hand to take over just in case?

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      He wants to go to Mars in it? Will they be relying on autopilot on Mars or like the Eagle landing on Luna will they have a test pilot on hand to take over just in case?

      Given the complexity, I wonder if a test pilot could realistically fly the vehicle. Or how much fuel it'd need for landing given the lower air density. But that's all a long way off, a bit like Mars really. Seeing and reading about the challenges of landing probes on Mars, it's a rather wicked problem to solve.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Given the complexity, I wonder if a test pilot could realistically fly the vehicle."

        Probably not. It takes a whole bunch processing and sensors to keep rockets on course. A simple lander at slow speeds is one thing, but a big booster can get in trouble faster than a human can react.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Given his personal wealth (at the time of writing) Musk can probably just about afford to send a dozen rockets to Mars working the kinks out of the design with each attempt until they can finally stick the landing. The Mars landscape will be littered with SpaceX failures. Let's see if he's willing to put himself on the first rocket.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Given his personal wealth (at the time of writing) Musk can probably just about afford to send a dozen rockets to Mars working the kinks out of the design with each attempt until they can finally stick the landing. "

        His "wealth" consists of writing on premium rag paper in the form of stock, not bank notes. If Elon were to start selling Tesla stock (for which he'd have to file a intent statement to be able to do), the value of Tesla would crash. Unlike Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Elon is tied closely to the future of Tesla. Where would the ROI come if SX doesn't successfully land on Mars? He'd get lots of PR, but no cash (or even BitCoin).

    3. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

      The first few rockets are probably going to be unmanned with equipment like stuff running the sabatier process so there will be fuel waiting for a return trip, lots of redundant equipment for hab's etc

    4. rg287 Silver badge

      He wants to go to Mars in it? Will they be relying on autopilot on Mars or like the Eagle landing on Luna will they have a test pilot on hand to take over just in case?

      They won't be sending humans until multiple ships have landed on Mars and deployed the solar farms and Sabatier-process equipment to make fuel for the return trip (and run things like air scrubbers and other support infrastructure/plant for manned bases).

      Given the delay in comms, those pathfinder cargo ships will have to make a fully automated descent. Humans won't be going until that whole process is nailed down and their support hardware is successfully delivered.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Given the delay in comms, those pathfinder cargo ships will have to make a fully automated descent."

        The latest rover, Perseverance, was a big challenge to get down to the surface of Mars. The aerobraking is slight, the parachute massive and sending the Sky Crane is dead weight that is mostly parasitic. The system doesn't scale well past this point. Propulsive landing is a requirement and that means propellents that can be stored for a 9 month trip which limits choices there. One has to choose mostly for the storability rather than isp.

        Adding more/bigger parachutes is also parasitic and it takes up lots of space. A bigger surface for better aerobraking? Heavy and complicated for what it returns.

        If we had nuclear propulsion and could send serious tonnage to Mars, landers with known propellents wouldn't be an issue. A faster transit time would also open up more choices. That tech may be the key to doing anything on Mars. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to develop the moon and find out how the human body reacts to reduced G over time. I was watching some video on astronaut Scott Kelley rehabilitation after a long stay on ISS. He's having to learn how to walk again and it's been tough. Chris Hadfield was on the program and stated that in the year since he'd come back he still hasn't worked back up to his former fitness. The engineering might not be the biggest problem going to Mars, it might just be monkeys in the barrel.

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Please

    remember... these things are prototypes... and musk has the money to throw at the project (which keeps us engineering types in a job)

    I'd much rather see that money used on trying to build a radical new spacecraft rather than musk 'investing' it all in the stock market making shares slightly more expensive.

    But hopefully they've got data from today's flight ... they'll stick it in the modeling program* and iron out yet another bug

    * any bets that modeling program is Kerbal space program ;)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the negativity

    I don't get the negativity. These are prototypes that are failing. This is their purpose. SpaceX have some very clever people who have designed for everything they can think of that will fail. The tests are to prove that things work/don't work as expected and to find things they didn't think of in the first place. They are expected to have a short life which is why they are rolling more off the production line with each new one incorporating lessons learned from previous failures.

    Try find some of the old footage from the early US space program to find how many failures they had just launching things.

    As to cost of recovery. The simple fact is if it wasn't cost effective to land and re-use them, then they wouldn't do it. If it wasn't cost effective, why are other rocket companies now trying to do it as well? Falcon 9's need some refurbishment, but the launch cadence is still impressive. The starship is being designed to require minimal refurbishment and be turned around almost as rapidly as a commercial aircraft.

    In the end, they will make it work and the world will be a better place for it.

    1. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Why the negativity

      I think most people are in appropriate awe of the rapid acceleration in Space tech from the people at SpaceX

      The negativity comes from Musk personally being *SUCH A FUCKING DICK * in both his work, personal life, behaviours and his massive gob/ego/self-belief-delusion that evolves over time with his (being fair right place at the right time) $$bn’s that seeded his rise.

      You can see similar characteristics - and detachment from reality and thinking (little people) rules/the law apples to them - from Bezos, Branson (bigging up eco fuel in Virgin Atlantic planes whilst doing Virgin Galactic space jolly’s for the mega rich ) and Gates (save the planet but ignore my pair of private jets as my little indulgence) and other Wealth Ultra’s.

      Correction - SN10 did not almost work, it visibly ‘bounced’ on touchdown ... explosion cause and effect.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Why the negativity

        It's odd that he's been in the right place so many times. What a lucky guy...

        Whether he's a dick? No idea, never met him. I do appreciate his openness in broadcasting so much SpaceX stuff when he really doesn't need to. I'd say he was well planted in reality though, compared with the others you mention.

        1. NeilPost Silver badge

          Re: Why the negativity

          Dick.... well the unnecessary stuff around the Thai cave rescue or his rebuke from the SEC or his April Fools Day share cluster-fuck... come immediately to mind as a few examples.

          Ultra Rich, pretty much beyond control ... and full of his own piss.

        2. NeilPost Silver badge

          Re: Why the negativity

          Got Lucky... he made money off Compaq with strange Zip2 acquisition... and making money when you have loads of money is easy. Not like he invented PayPal... he just ended up acquiring Confinity into X.com and getting booted out of CEO job yhere but retained lots of stock.

          I’m sure with a few $bn behind anyone they can make additional money pretty easily.

          1. James Hughes 1

            Re: Why the negativity

            Tell that to all the people who started out with lots, and now have much less. Trump for example.

            Thing is, Musk is very good at spotting where improvements can be made - Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City, Boring Company. These are all going to make a HUGE amount of money, because HE spotted areas in markets where there was money to be made.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Why the negativity

              Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City, Boring Company. These are all going to make a HUGE amount of money, because HE spotted areas in markets where there was money to be made.

              Forward looking statements. Solar City bled cash until a curious move by Tesla to acquire it. TBC won a bid for a futuristic Hypeloop less than 2 miles long to get conventioneers from Vegas airport to conf centres. Fancy intelligent pods and creatve artist's impressions ended up with a utility tunnel & chauffer driven Model 3s. Or Tesla, which managed to squeeze out a small profit thanks to the sale of regulatory credits, and coming next quarter, Bitcoin gains.

              Although Musk has made a lot of money, his ventures.. haven't. But such is marketing. I think the biggest risk is Musk's web of ventures, presumably funded against Tesla stock, and what'll happen if/when that craters.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why the negativity

                Even if everything else goes pear shaped, SpaceX is on solid footing. NASA need them to launch astronauts to the ISS, they have a big satellite launch order book and Starlink should be a money spinner.

              2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: Why the negativity

                " Solar City bled cash until a curious move by Tesla to acquire it. "

                If you look behind the curtain, the reasoning wasn't so curious. Tesla, SX and SC were all strapped tightly together financially. SC going into administration would have had serious repercussions on SX and Tesla. It was far better for Tesla to absorb the debt and obligations creating an even worse balance sheet than to have it drag down SX as well. Now Tesla owes SX for the loans and equity purchases rather than SX having to explain the losses.

              3. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: Why the negativity

                "Fancy intelligent pods and creatve artist's impressions ended up with a utility tunnel & chauffer driven Model 3s."

                It doesn't look as if the Vega project is even done. I'm surprised that there are no barriers to keep people away from traffic in the underground stop and the layout in the two above ground stations has people crossing through the traffic lanes.

                The fines may flatten The Boring Company.

                I've been to many conventions in Las Vegas and while the convention center is huge, I tend to work my way from one side to the other. Sometimes that's over the course of a couple of days for something like CES or NAB (National Association of Broadcasters). I don't find myself going end to end in one go very often unless I'm going to meet with friends. It's not like I don't need the exercise to begin with.

                Honestly, the sort of system they have a Heathrow Terminal 5 (UltraPRT) is much better suited. I know the founder of that company passed away and one of their main senior engineers moved on, but PRT is a perfect fit for this type of application. The tech is there, it's just that TBC/Elon doesn't have it.

            2. Blank Reg Silver badge

              Re: Why the negativity

              Trump is especially stupid though, he's destroys everything he touches.

          2. toffer99

            Re: Why the negativity

            Got so lucky, he ended up (so far) with 4 half-billion companies, and second richest man. Really lucky, eh.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Why the negativity

            "Not like he invented PayPal"

            He hasn't invented anything of note. Electric cars > over 100 years ago. Hyperloop (vactrain) .> over 100 years ago. Rockets > many decades ago. Holes in the ground > At least Brunel (the Senior), possibly earlier.

            If I won a Tesla car in a lottery, I'd flog it off right away and buy something else. Of course, I'm not thrilled by the MachE or the VW ID series. I see those two as copying the biggest mistakes of Tesla. Ford took the big LCD single point of failure and stuck a knobby bit through the screen. Try to find a replacement for that in a few years. Try and find any of those displays after the mandated support periods are past. Try to explain to your insurance company that you were trying to find the page with the wiper controls when you ran into the light pole. I like discrete controls that I can find with muscle memory. I was thinking about that on the long trip I just did a week ago in an overloaded moving van that took lots of minding to keep in lane (1,400 miles over 22hours in two days). I really appreciated that all of the controls were easy to find by touch. It was a 2021 Ford E350 with all of the trip computer stuff (very nice).

    2. s. pam

      Re: Why the negativity

      “ In the end, they will make it work and the world will be a better place for it.”

      Can I suggest the following occupant for it to make Earth a better place:

      Donald Trump

      Hairy & Meagain

      The Kartdashians

      Pierced Moron

    3. toffer99

      Re: Why the negativity

      The criticisms of Musk tend to come from the Daily Mail and the kind who read it. Its called hate-publishing and anybody trying something new or different gets attacked by its purveyors and their followers. Probably explainable by some mental illness.

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Why the negativity

      .... and now there are books such as "Rocket Propulsion Elements" by Gary Sutton along with other standard texts on rocketry that go into great depth based on all of the testing the USSR and NASA were doing way back when.

      Starship will never be as fast or easy to turn around as a commercial aircraft. Just fueling the beast takes hours and hours. A jet aircraft, a few tens of minutes and the fueling can be done while other work commences. If there is a weather delay, a jet doesn't have to be detanked and refueled later. Elon likes to play with densified cryogenics, so if the fuel/oxidizer warms up, it will have significantly less performance. Jet fuel also doesn't change state so venting isn't an issue.

  7. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    The thought presents itself...

    ...albeit too late to be of any help, and it still wouldn't have saved SN11.

    Why are they pushing the envelope (quite literally) in all of the landing manoeuvre tests so far? What would you lose by simulating a landing burn with a target above ground level rather than at it and hoping everything just works? You would still identify the same problems, but have a chance to recover.

    No doubt bigger minds than mine have considered this question in detail, but it would be interesting to know why.

    1. fwadman

      Re: The thought presents itself...

      I assume there is a lot of complex sensors which are detecting where the ground is and the readings of these are going to be effected by the interaction between the rocket jet and the ground - so I suspect simulating this X meters off the ground won't help that much

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Simulating above ground

      Nice in theory, but there then won't be enough fuel to get it on the ground (slowly).

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Simulating above ground

        Is this limited by the size of the header tanks? The main tanks are more than large enough for the additional propellant.

    3. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: The thought presents itself...

      If it's anything like the Falcon 9, the problem will be how deep you can throttle the engines.

      Rocket engines can't throttle down indefinitely (much like an internal combustion engine has an idle speed). On a F9, the minimum throttle of one Merlin engine still generates more thrust than the entire stage weighs (since it's basically an empty coke can at the point).

      Consequently the Falcon 9 cannot hover. The maneuvre that Harriers, F35s and helicopters pull of coming to a halt next to a carrier and then edging in and dropping down is not available to F9. Once it stops falling it will start to rise again. It's termed a suicide burn (or a "hover-slam") - you have to time it so your vertical speed equals zero at exactly the moment you touch the ground, and then you kill the engine before you lift off again.

      If your vertical speed hits zero above the ground, then you either have to fly off and blow it up safely, or cut the engine and fall. You can't lower it down "under power". Unless you run this simulation quite high up, there won't be time to cut and relight the engines for the real landing. You pretty much guarantee you'll lose the prototype instead of probably losing the prototype.

      I'm not sure about the exact thrust/weight ratios of StarShip/Raptor engines, but I suspect that if they tried to do a "simulated landing" at (say) 500ft, the rocket would then have to fly off and be destroyed anyway - they wouldn't be able to land it afterwards.

  8. AHW

    SN10 did not explode seconds after landing .

    SN10 stood on the landing pad for over six minutes before it's unscheduled second flight.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      "SN10 did not explode seconds after landing

      SN10 stood on the landing pad for over six minutes before it's unscheduled second flight."

      Over 360 seconds then after landing then.

  9. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    A long time ago, stuck in space far far away...

    Just imagine how many talented space engineers got stuck light years from home when they were testing the hyperdrive engines used on Star Destroyers and Millennium Falcons.

    They didn't give up though. They got it right eventually.

    1. David Hicklin

      Re: A long time ago, stuck in space far far away...

      In the Lost Fleet books there is mention of early flights where the drive failed in hyperspace in such a way that they were stuck there until it just happened upon a point where it could exit into normal space.

  10. David M
    Joke

    Historical precedent

    We've been doing successful tail-first vertical landings since the 60s - I've seen film of Thunderbird 3 doing this on a numerous occasions.

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Historical precedent

      Where do you think Musk got his Ideas from?

      https://oliverbruce.me/blog/elon-musk-got-all-is-best-ideas-from-a-1960s-puppet-show

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Historical precedent

        I think it's earlier than that.

        I have some books from when I was at primary school in the 1950s with pictures of rockets on Mars.

        One of them was called 'Return to Mars'.

        If they were returning back then, I wonder when they first went.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Historical precedent

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcys-t2thk8

    2. aregross

      Re: Historical precedent

      Don't forget Fireball XL-5!

      Although there is "Fireball" in the name!

      1. Julz Silver badge

        Re: Historical precedent

        The XL-5 launched from a track in a pleasingly spectacular way. I don’t recall ever seeing the whole ship (or the booster bit(s)) land. The capsule with the folks and robot in it landed on its side on extending legs with the aid of smoke as far as a recall.

    3. HelpfulJohn

      Re: Historical precedent

      SF magazines had covers with VTOL phallic rocket-ships on them in the 1930's. Mr. Heinlein wrote SF short and novel-length tales of them from about the 1930's to the 1950's.

      It's an idea about as old as Goddard's first launches, maybe older.

      The strange aerodynamic StarShips of the 1960's and later are much more recent and a lot less practical for off-world activities. NCC-1701 was just poor designing.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fast forward a couple of years...

    "We fully intended SpaceX to be a throw-away design from the start, but thought it would be fun to try for a reusable design first"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can only presume those offering a negative view on Musks development strategy don't fly (planes in the Wright brothers era often crashed fatally) and don't go by any form of motorised transport (early horseless carriages were incredibly unsafe).

  13. Snobol4

    Can't even get a reliable video link?

    The thing I actually found most worrying is the fact they couldn't even get a reliable video link to work over a line-of-site range of a few km. Surely that should be easy in this day and age? I remember Apollo had "good" pictures from the moon. Why can't Space X get reliable feeds from a few km up, especially when images such as this must be important in the process of analysing failures? It's not just there for fan entertainment value!

    Also, whilst I accept that landing a rocket successfully is not a trivial thing, I do find it rather intriguing that it is not more consistent given the many orders of magnitude of transistors and lines of code that are certainly being thrown at the control system than on early landings, such as the LEM. Anyone watched the videos of the Apollo guidance computer? Very basic technology, but maasterfully executed and amazingly effective - from the very first landing!

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Re: Can't even get a reliable video link?

      The thing I actually found most worrying is the fact they couldn't even get a reliable video link to work over a line-of-site range of a few km.

      Actually they can and do maintain reliable video links, multiple video streams for the engineering teams and post-launch analysis people to go over. What they make public is another matter, either live at the time of launch and throughout the flight or afterwards once all the debris has hit the ground and the fires have been put out. I've not seen any SpaceX streams of the Starship launches the way they provide launchpad streams for Falcon 9 and Falcon FT launches, just third-party long-lens shots from cameras positioned several kilometres from the Boca Chica launch site.

      The crash-and-burns of early attempts to land the Falcon 9 first stages weren't making things look good for SpaceX so they often had "outages" of their live streams just as the stages were attempting to land on the barges followed occasionally by resumptions of the video when it was clear they had a standing rocket to show to the world and not a pile of smoking rubble.

      1. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

        Re: Can't even get a reliable video link?

        "Actually they can and do maintain reliable video links, multiple video streams for the engineering teams and post-launch analysis people to go over"

        Perhaps you should go re-watch the space X streams and really listen to the commentary. The streams that they put onto Youtube and the like ARE the engineering streams that they receive. They are just switching / deciding which ones to show the public like any TV show would switch between multiple camera's.

        Personally I'd guess that the reason the video drops from time to time is atmospheric conditions attenuating the signal. The video is alot of data where the telemetry probably doesn't need near the same bandwidth as a video signal.

    2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

      Re: Can't even get a reliable video link?

      > rather intriguing that it is not more consistent

      Every flight in this test series has ended with an explosive disassembly on or soon after landing, so I would say high marks for consistency.

  14. PlacidCasual

    Amazed at the negativity

    So SpaceX have used a lot of NASA funding for development but they have built the Flacon9 and Falcon heavy with over 100 flights between them and are routinely underbidding every other operator out there. They have already transformed the space launch market. They're using their reusable rockets to deploy a massive satellite internet service at breakneck speed that is literally orders of magnitude larger and faster than anything that has gone before. All whilst developing an even more ambitious fully reusable (or maybe refurbishable) launch system at a pace with no recent parallel in space launch history other than his own company. They have committed to fast development schedule based on taking risks and whilst it's having set backs it's frankly amazing yet all anyone seems to do is whinge about it. I'm amazed at the negativity.

  15. saif
    Holmes

    Was doing it in fog really necessary?

    The biggest returns from these spacex launches are 1) the data and 2) the spectacle. When both are compromised, the retrospectoscopic analysis suggests that launches have been cancelled for less.

    1. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

      Re: Was doing it in fog really necessary?

      They are going to have to land in the fog at some point. If you're bringing people back from the moon or mars you don't want to keep them in orbit of the earth. Would they even be able to enter orbit safely ?

      I agree with the "Why do a test in fog NOW rather than later"

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Was doing it in fog really necessary?

        "They are going to have to land in the fog at some point."

        Not really. If the fog is forecast to lift in a couple of hours, waiting for the preferred landing site is often the best choice. If the delay would be longer, a landing craft would be set to land at one of the alternates. The Space Shuttle had several landing sites. Florida was preferred since that was the base of operations, but Edwards AFB in California was used frequently as the alternate. There were also a couple of more places in other countries for emergencies.

  16. s. pam
    Mushroom

    They really need to call it a day...

    Two outcomes, only one is possibly acceptable:

    1) they go into the BBQ business as Texans love cooking tasty animals

    2) they market it as a Martian Euthanasia Trip given after 8-9 months in space it’ll likely crash and kill all occupants

    1. HelpfulJohn

      Re: They really need to call it a day...

      Re your "1": I'd go. I'm absolutely sure that not even a Texan would eat my remains, it would be far cheaper than any form of funeral and it looks to be a quick exit, probably a warm one, too.

      Re your "2": I'd go. Hell, I'd go in a fleet of those space station resupply pods even if I knew it was a high probability of the landing being more of a meteoric display than a gentle bump. It's months without gravity, months without being threatened by SARS III, IV and V and months of being able to see the stars as the elder gods intended - no damned city lights or car headlamps blinding me. Yerp, even as a slow euth. machine, it sounds marvellous and there would always be the possibility of a successful landing, after which I could spend years puttering about fixing Oppy, finding and charging Beagle, looking for the long-buried Old Martian cities and other useful stuff.

      I'm surely not doing anything *here* to help Humanity, being Old Elron Musketeer's crash test dummy would at least be a contribution.

      How do I sign up?

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