Photo credit: BocaChicaGal / NASASpaceflight
|Fate:||Exploded in flight before landing|
SN11 is a high altitude prototype manufactured by SpaceX, and the last the series of prototypes that included SN8, SN9 and S10. SN12-14 were scrapped after the decision was made to proceed with SN15 which incorporates new materials and building techniques.
On 6 March preparations were being made to move SN11 to the launch pad for testing, with SN11 being moved on 8 March and placed on Suborbital Pad B. It was noted that it had three raptor engines installed prior to rollout.
On 11 March SN11 was put through a cryogenic pressure test which it passed successfully, clearing the way for a static fire test. A static fire test was planned for Monday 15 March, but was scrubbed after an abort. While waiting for the next static fire, engineers undertook flap testing on 20 March.
The next static fire attempt was completed on 22 March, with one raptor engine needing to be removed for repairs. On 25 March raptor engine SN46 was delivered to the launch site and installed on SN11, another static fire attempt will be scheduled before a flight test.
26 March was to see both a static fire and if it was successful, a test launch. The static fire took placed, but the launch attempted was scrub with Elon Musk stating that it would occur “probably Monday”. On 30 March the launch was again delayed after Musk announced that the FAA inspector had been unable to reach Starbase in time.
The test launch instead took place on 31 March in heavy fog with limited visibility. Ignition and ascent performed ok with SN11 reaching the altitude of 10km. Controlled descent was also fine but following the start of the landing burn an anomaly occurred, resulting in the destruction of SN11 in flight. Debris from the rocket rained down on the surrounding area which were captured on Tim Dodd’s (The Everyday Astronaut) and NASASpaceFlight.com’s streams of the launch, as the official SpaceX webcast remained frozen with the last image transmitted from the camera prior to destruction.
Elon Musk stated on Twitter that Engine had “had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn”, and that “something significant happened shortly after landing burn start” which resulted in the destruction of SN11. When questioned on Twitter a few days later Musk revealed that a small methane leak in engine 2 led to a fire that destroyed part of the avionics, leading to a hard start when attempting the landing burn which resulted in the destruction of the vehicle.
All dates & times are local unless otherwise indicated.