Starship SN11 followed in the footsteps of its predecessors – the SN8, SN9 and SN10 – when it spectacularly exploded at Boca Chica, South Texas, last month (March 30). The prototype SpaceX spacecraft launched to an altitude of 32,000ft (10km) under a dense blanket of fog, after which it attempted to touch back down in one piece. To make matters worse, just moments before the rocket failed to land, SpaceX’s official live stream froze, leaving everyone in the dark about what was going on at Boca Chica.
RUD or rapid unscheduled disassembly was eventually confirmed by SpaceX engineer John Insprucker who announced over the live broadcast SpaceX had lost contact with SN11.
As rocket parts and debris rained over the launch pad, it was clear SpaceX had crashed another rocket.
Mr Insprucker said: “And for those who just joined us, uh, the frozen view we saw on the camera doesn’t mean that we were waiting for the signal to come back.
“Starship 11 is not coming back. Don’t wait for the landing, uh, we do appear to have lost all the data from the vehicle.”
Why did the Starship SN11 crash into Boca Chica?
SN11 was only the fourth Starship iteration to launch from the South Texas base but fans were hoping it was going to be the first to survive its suborbital flight.
This was not the case as the rocket was blown to smithereens just six minutes after blasting off the launch pad.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk has now shared insight into the failed landing attempt, revealing a methane leak may have been responsible for the crash.
SpaceX uses methane (CH4) to fuel the next-generation rocket instead of the typical hydrogen-based rocket fuel.
Mr Musk took to Twitter on Monday where he blamed a “relatively small” leak that caught fire on one of the engines.
Starship is powered by three Raptor engines, which are fired during the ascent and descent stage.
The South African billionaire tweeted: “Ascent phase, transition to horizontal and control during free fall were good.
“A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine two and fried parts of avionics, causing hard start attempting landing burn in CH4 turbopump.”
The leak may have occurred about 26 seconds into the flight after a Twitter user shared a screenshot of flames around one of the Raptor engines.
Mr Musk has not confirmed this but SpaceX fans will be glad to learn the issue “is getting fixed ways to Sunday” before the launch of the Starship SN15.
Starship SN15 or Serial Number 15 will be the next iteration to launch after SpaceX scrapped the SN12, SN13 and SN14 models.
Mr Musk believes the SN15 will mark a considerable technological leap over its predecessors, eliminating the need for the three scrapped rockets.
Starship is being developed at an unprecedented pace as the rocket that could one day fly humans to Mars.
The prototypes are being assembled and tested in South Texas where Mr Musk said he wants to convert Boca Chica into a bustling spaceport called Starbase.
The spacecraft will launch from Earth atop the reusable Super Heavy booster rocket, and the whole system is referred to as Starship.
SpaceX has purchased a number of oil rigs to convert them into mobile, sea-based launch platforms for the spacecraft.
Mr Musk aims to go orbital with the first Starship prototype before the year is over, with operational flights by 2023.