The first test of the Booster 7 Raptor 2 engines will be the first step toward orbital flight of the SpaceX Starship. This will be the company’s tallest and most powerful rocket yet. Booster 7’s aft engine section is clearly damaged, but the rest of the rocket may have escaped relatively unscathed. This is one of the biggest questions regarding the project and the company’s launch schedule.
Booster 7’s aft engine section was clearly damaged by the blast
The aft engine section of Booster 7 was damaged by the explosion, and SpaceX has no immediate plans to replace it. But it is necessary to evaluate the situation and determine what to do next. While the damage appears to be minor, SpaceX must carefully inspect all engines to determine the source of the blast. As a precaution, it will remove the Super Heavy from its launch mount for a few days while SpaceX assesses the damage.
After the July 11 explosion, engineers discovered that the Raptor engines were shattered by the heat shield panels that surround their engine compartments. These panels fit tightly together, so any damage to them can easily ruin the Raptor engine parts. Luckily, the crews of Booster 7 were able to salvage as many parts as they could before the blast occurred.
The aft engine section of Booster 7 was clearly damaged. The right Solid Rocket Motor’s aft field joint had substantial burn damage. The burn damage appeared to be centered at the 307-degree position. The right Solid Rocket Motor, however, was not affected by thermal distress. Despite the damage to the aft engine section, the other Solid Rocket Boosters were not.
Booster downcomer failure was caused by a SpaceX employee
On March 30, 2021, a giant black orb, which will serve as SpaceX’s Mars colony, crashed during a landing test. The launch took place in thick fog, but later returned to Earth for an attempt to land. After six minutes of flight, cameras stopped recording and the spaceship exploded above the landing pad. Elon Musk said that the problem was likely caused by problems with engine 2 during the ascent and landing burn.
An image shared on social media indicates that a component of the rocket’s booster failed during testing. This component, known as a downcomer, transfers propellant from the upper stages of the vehicle to the engines. Musk is now saying that an employee at SpaceX may have been responsible for the failure, but he doesn’t know the details. The failure could be due to a design miscalculation or procedural error.
Elon Musk said earlier this month that he was not sure the Starship would reach orbit on its first try, but that he was confident that the spaceship will fly by 2022. After raising billions of dollars for the rocket project, Musk recently tweeted that it is on track for first flights in 2021. The company has since tweeted images of the downcomer and the SpaceX starship, which will be super-heavy.
Booster 7’s aft engine section may have come out relatively unscathed
A fireball triggered by a test fire on July 11 damaged thermal protection panels around the Raptor engines. The thermal shields fit tightly together, and one or two small pieces can easily crack. But workers spent hours before the explosion removing the thermal shields and replacing the Raptor in-situ. Now, the SpaceX CEO says that the aft engine section of the spaceship could still be relatively unscathed.
In addition to the aft engine section, there is another concern. The aft engine section of Booster 7 may have escaped relatively unscathed because of the mass and residual propellant it contains. The TPS tiles are mounted in a way that allows them to move very little.
While SpaceX is investigating the incident, it is still unclear whether it could have been prevented. SpaceX is claiming that the fire was caused by an unintentional ignition source. As a result, the company has removed the rocket from the launch pad and is working to repair the rocket. After the fire, SpaceX has blamed the incident on a scattered cloud of methane gas, which it found had an unintentional ignition source. However, the explosion is so large that some observers say it was equivalent to a large amount of TNT.
SpaceX continues to push the envelope with each vehicle. Booster 7’s aft engine section may have survived the crash relatively unscathed. SpaceX has completed several high-altitude tests with its Starship prototypes, and needs to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the vehicles. The company remains on track to receive its license, but it still needs to finish a key environmental assessment.