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SpaceX’s next high-altitude Starship shrugs off fall damage

SpaceXs next high altitude Starship shrugs off fall damage SpaceX Boca Chica


SpaceX’s next high-altitude Starship shrugs off fall damage


A handful of days after a workstand collapse threatened to end SpaceX’s next high-altitude Starship before it could leave the cradle, the rocket appears to have shrugged off whatever damage was caused with ease.

On the morning of December 11th and less than 24 hours after SpaceX investors and VIPs like COO Gwynne Shotwell and CEO Elon Musk were standing almost underneath the rocket, an unknown issue cause Starship SN9’s workstand to partially collapse. Seemingly through sheer luck, the part of the circular stand that collapsed was towards the corner of the ‘high bay’ building housing SN9, causing the rocket to tip around five degrees before colliding with the wall’s steel frame.

Starship Boca Chica 121120 NASASpaceflight bocachicagal SN9 tip 1 crop c SpaceX Boca Chica
Starship SN9 after an accidental rendezvous with the wall. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Starship Boca Chica 121420 NASASpaceflight bocachicagal SN9 recovery SN5 2 c SpaceX Boca Chica
Probably not gonna buff out… (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Again, by some stroke of luck, the same angle of Starship SN9’s fall that prevented the rocket from tipping over onto Super Heavy’s in-work tank section (with workers possibly inside) seemingly allowed its flaps to absorb the bulk of that impact. One of two pairs used to keep the ship steady during a skydiver-like freefall maneuver, SN9’s forward and aft starboard flaps suffered obvious damage, perhaps unintentionally functioning like the crumple zones designed to protect passengers during car crashes.

Starship Boca Chica 121320 NASASpaceflight bocachicagal SN9 tip damage 1 c SpaceX Boca Chica
Starship Boca Chica 121320 NASASpaceflight bocachicagal SN9 tip damage 4 crop c SpaceX Boca Chica
‘Tis… a bit more than a scratch. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Aside from one or two subtle dents caused by the thoroughly off-axis stresses, the rest of the fully-assembled vehicle remained visibly untouched, though it was a near-complete unknown if Starship was capable of surviving such an ordeal. For 99% of the world’s rockets, almost all of which are either built out of aluminum or carbon fiber, tipping from a vertical position into a steel wall at anything less than a snail’s pace would likely be the end of any normal propellant tank – probably up to and including even SpaceX’s own reusable Falcon boosters. At a minimum, extensive repairs would be required.

On December 20th, nine days after the incident and six days after a crane lifted SN9 back into a stable position, SpaceX quietly replaced the Starship’s crumpled forward flap after having removed both damaged flaps in the days prior. The installation of that replacement flap – possibly taken from Starship SN10’s nose – all but confirmed a best-case scenario, as it would be hard to remove the damaged hardware and install a new flap so quickly if the underlying hinge and mounting mechanisms had been damaged in the fall. If only the aft – but not forward – flap mechanism was somehow damaged, it would also make little sense to install a new forward flap.

Starship Boca Chica 122020 NASASpaceflight bocachicagal SN9 new flap 1 c SpaceX Boca Chica
New flap, new day. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Starship Boca Chica 122120 NASASpaceflight Nomadd SN9 lift crane prep 3 c SpaceX Boca Chica
The crane needed to install Starship SN9 on the launch mount was carried to the pad on December 21st. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Meanwhile, in another kind of encouraging sign, SpaceX moved the crane needed to lift Starships onto the launch mount from the build site to the launch pad on December 21st – right on schedule. It’s extremely unlikely that SpaceX would complete that move unless it was confident that a Starship prototype would be ready to roll to the launch pad, further implying that Starship SN9 really has shrugged off its workplace accident after less than two weeks of delays. Stay tuned for updates – road closures that could be used to transport SN9 are still in place from around 8 am to 5 pm CST on December 22nd and 23rd.

SpaceX’s next high-altitude Starship shrugs off fall damage


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