Starship Orbital Test Flight Raises Serious Questions

Yesterday, April 20 at 8:33 CST, SpaceX attempted its first orbital launch of the Starship (S24) and Super Heavy Booster (B7). Starship succeeded in clearing the launch tower and surviving through MaxQ, or maximum dynamic pressure, but was terminated 4 minutes after launch.

Update: Mike Killian’s camera’s last image as it was destroyed by a concrete debris from the SpaceX Starship orbital, a.k.a. ballistic trajectory, launch attempt. According to Mike, he has another camera in the LC but SpaceX will be mailing it as the LC is still smoldering.

Photo Credit: 2023 Mike Killian/

Starship 24 was the first orbital prototype and Booster 7 was the first SH Booster to have all 33 Raptor engines.

As Starship cleared the tower, the first sign of trouble was that 3 out the Super Heavy Booster’s 33 engines had already failed. The failure of 3 Raptor engines before lift-off would have ended the launch of most rockets (Delta, Atlas, SLS, Falcon 9), which are only released from the launchpad when all systems are nominal. The loss of three engines before lift-off is not considered nominal or safe.

From there, things seemed to go well for the next 25 seconds, at which point something unexpected appeared to happen at the base of the Super Heavy Booster.

At 0:29, and within approximately a couple of seconds, an explosion occurred at the Super Heavy Booster’s base. Some have speculated that it was a hydraulic power unit (HPU)? It also appeared that part of the booster’s cladding appeared to be ejected by the force of the event.

Within a minute into the launch, another 3 engines had failed, for a total of 6 engines out. Unknown at this time is whether the additional Raptor engine failures are due to possible issues with the Raptor engines themselves or that the engines were damaged by debris from launch.

Six Engines out on Super Heavy Booster 7 as Starship climbs after launch. Photo Credit: Massimino (@RainMaker1973).

At 2:40, moments before main engine cut-off and staging for Starship, Super Heavy Booster began its arc to orient itself for Starship staging. However, the arc continued into a loop. The booster’s guidance and control (G&C) system did not seem to accept this as a failure of guidance laws. The booster completed over 3 loop de loops over the course of 1 minute and 19 seconds after which the flight termination system (FTS) engaged at 3:59. Failure of the flight termination system to terminate the launch after explosions at the base of the Super Heavy Booster or the booster doing multiple aerial acrobatics is likely something that will need to be resolved before another launch is allowed.

Starship, the launch abort system for the Starship Super Heavy Booster stack, never engaged as Super Booster tumbled over 3 times. There is some photographic evidence that Starship was partially separated from the Super Heavy Booster, but that was likely due to affects from the booster looping during the last 1 minute 19 seconds of its flight.

For over the past three years, there have been worries expressed that the Starship launch pad did not have any of the systems used by NASA and others to diminish the energy of a launch such as a flame trench, flame deflector, and water deluge system. The lack of those energy absorption systems seems to have had a severe affect on the launchpad.

Post launch, it became apparent that erosion at the launchpad area was extensive. A crater several feet deep was gouged out nearly to the width of the Starship launch stand. Concrete panels surrounding the launchpad were gone. There was extensive damage to facilities at the Starship base, including a liquid oxygen tank that was heavily dented.

Debris and chunks of concrete were ejected for up to several hundred yards from the launchpad.

The impact was not just ballistic but also of high speed trajectories that destroyed cars parked over 200 yards away.

After the dust had settled, there appeared to be chunks of concrete strewn across the launch area.

Smaller debris made it all the way to Port Isabel, 5 miles away.

Starship’s first orbital test flight did see successes. Starship cleared the tower and it did make it through maximum dynamic pressure, two significant accomplishments that will feed good data back to SpaceX.

The launch to orbit of SpaceX’s first orbital Starship test flight show several events during the mission that SpaceX and NASA likely will want to remedy before another launch attempt.

NASA in particular is left with some hard choices arising from choosing Starship as its sole lunar lander for the Artemis III mission. There is little question that the schedule for the Starship lunar lander, which was running already a little bit behind, will now be pushed significantly to the right. The test flight of a “skeleton” Starship lunar landing is unlikely to occur in 2024, as planned. There were never plans to test the Starship lunar lander with a crew in Earth orbit, as NASA did with its Lunar Module in Apollo 9, or in lunar orbit, as in Apollo 10. Instead, after the lunar landing test in 2024, the next flight of the Starship lunar lander would occur on Artemis III with a crew.

The lack of proper energy absorption and dampening around the launchpad resulting in destruction of the underlying concrete, ejection of that concrete and underlying soil, resulting in gouging of a large crater under the launchpad means a lot of infrastructure work before the next launch. Some of that work may, likely will, require additional federal government participation.

That the booster was allowed to lift-off without all of its engines working is unusual in today’s launch environment. Since the 1940’s, possibly earlier, launch vehicles have not been released to fly unless all of their engines are working. The reason is simple; if the engines are not working as planned after ignition, there is already a significant problem that could only get worse if the vehicle is unleashed.

The failure of the booster’s guidance & control to detect that the booster was off its normal ascent trajectory, that it was looping during its ascent, and to terminate the flight for a full 1 m 19 s that the booster performed over 3 loop de loops is another issue that will have to be addressed. Such a delay in the flight termination system could have catastrophic consequences. For example, Port Isabel is only 5 miles away from Starbase, a distance that could be covered by a launching Starship in a tiny fraction of the 1 minute and 19 seconds that it took the FTS to finally activate.

More critically for the aspirations of future crewed flight is the failure of the Starship, the launch abort system for the Starship stack, to abort when the booster experienced issues during ascent or when the booster went off its nominal trajectory. Whether this was due to the booster’s own systems not detecting an issue or with Starship remains to be determined.

Whether the Starship test flight failure will force a delay in the launch of Artemis III depends on whether the Artemis III mission itself is already delayed so much that a delay in Starship is meaningless. NASA has no Plan B to the Starship lunar lander. For the first time in American spaceflight history, the goals of the space program, in the case of Artemis III to land astronauts once again on the Moon’s surface, are hitched to the progress of a single space company over which NASA has little or no control.

It is worth reminding that the Starship lunar lander has no descent abort capability. That means that should anything critical go wrong on the Starship lander during descent to the lunar surface, the crew would be forced to wait for its Newtonian-determined end. Anyone thinking NASA is not capable of taking risks certainly doesn’t appreciate the unprecedented risks it is taking in getting the Artemis III crew to the lunar surface over 339,000 miles away.

Later on April 20, SpaceX released the following statement:

Starship gave us quite a show during today’s first flight test of a fully integrated Starship and Super Heavy rocket from Starbase in Texas.

At 8:33 a.m. CT, Starship successfully lifted off from the orbital launch pad for the first time. The vehicle cleared the pad and beach as Starship climbed to an apogee of -39 km over the Gulf of Mexico – the highest of any Starship to-date. The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble. The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship. As is standard procedure, the pad and surrounding area was cleared well in advance of the test, and we expect the road and beach near the pad to remain closed until tomorrow.

With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems today that will help us improve on future flights of Starship. Thank you to our customers, Cameron County, and the wider community for the continued support and encouragement. And congratulations to the entire Space team on an exciting first flight test of


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  1. There is no evidence that this will delay Artemis, on the contrary NASA congratulated SpaceX on a successful launch test.

    As for the ground installations, the locally crumbled tower is a superfluous water tank. There are other problems though, such as a small venting leak in a LOX tower. Even if it is only the outer cryo shell any repair to some code [not a US citizen ] will likely mean they have to be reissued a license.

      • A bet on what!? [And no, I don’t bet.]

        Those were evidence based claims, and I see no argument issued against them. I assume the response wasn’t intended as trolling, but it comes close.

    • Hurry hurry step right up from this new woke agenda that’s undermining the United States, I’m glad to see we won’t put our highly trained people on the flight to the Moon will leave that to the most expendable astronauts!, I’m glad to see they’ve agreed to put a female and a person of color on the trip to the moon since it’s so dangerous

      • A little less conspiracy theory – “agenda”, really!? – and a little more relevance would be nice.

  2. Could you make more assumptions in one article? You seen to think terminating the launch on the pad would have been better. By all professional accounts the launch was a success but you in your infinite wisdom deem it a failure.

    • I agree with the people above. This mission was deemed a success by all professional and scientific standards. Frankly you’re either writing click bait, are biased against musk or a moron. You’re overall negative and critical take when this was a huge success is the reason people think the news is fake. You should redact this.

      • Perhaps don’t bill the test as an “orbital test” and merely a flight test?
        The hubris of it all.
        Yes, it successfully ‘cleared the tower” but it failed to reach orbit.
        Grade; c-
        Best title: spacex successfully discovers hoe NOT to build a launch platform for the world’s biggest rocket.

        • I didn’t bill this as an orbital test, SpaceX did that. The ultimate goal of Thursday’s test was to put Starship into low Earth orbit.

          • Perhaps you watched a different stream to me (and everyone else) – the one SpaceX broadcast showed clear animations, more than once, that the mission plan was separation followed by splash down.

            The booster was planned to perform a righting manoeuvre similar to the intended return trajectory for future propulsive landings and splash down in the gulf.

            The Starship was planned to perform a single lap around Earth with a velocity below orbital velocities and splash down in the proximity of the Hawaiian islands for an ocean recovery.

            SpaceX billed this launch attempt as a flight test of their future orbital vehicle, or as the first fully integrated flight test of their rocket. A flight test and an orbital test are not the same.

            • So if you enter a marathon, only having every completed a 5k before, with the goal of making it halfway, you’ll just stop at that point? Obviously they have a plan for y if it succeeds at x, and a plan for z if it succeeds at y. I guess you totally missed how falcon 9 development went, now the most successful launch platform ever, and the only American platform to get astronauts to the ISS.

              • I missed how a company that we thought knew how to successfully launch rockets showed that it still has much to learn. Like, you know, how to build a launchpad properly, how to code-up a booster G&C so that it terminates itself when it goes off-nominal, or abort code to, you know, abort when the booster isn’t working properly.

      • I spent 6 years working in the aerospace business and have a BS and MS in aerospace engineering. Most of my friends are still in the space business. None of them, not one, including a SpaceX engineer, is happy with this launch.

        Now, let me flip this around; what is your background? Engineer? Aerospace engineer? If you can’t tell or derive for me the Ideal Rocket Equation, why dh/dT =0, or what a bi-elliptic orbit transfer is, then who are you to throw around words like moron?

        I await you pithy, insightful detort.

    • Hi Jason,

      I used to be in the aerospace business. I know people who still are, who launch rockets, design rockets, and so on. I assure you that I could have put far more assumptions into this article, especially regarding the lunar lander. This launch was more or less on balance a significant failure. It puts NASA’s 2026 Moon landing very much in doubt, something you don’t seem troubled by.

  3. The reason the launch abort system was not engaged at the first sign something was not right, ie. Three engines not working, is that there is no launch abort system on starship. The only option is to terminate by blowing the thing up, which is what they eventually did at the appropriate time. Starship, as well as falcon 9, is capable of flying successfully even without all of its engines. I’m not sure how many engines they can lose and still be successful, but there is some redundancy built in. But starship, just like the space shuttle, has no launch abort system.

    • Starship is the launch abort system for the Starship-SHB stack. Ask SpaceX. It did not abort the flight, that is eject itself from a failing booster. It is a big deal in the space business when a launch abort system doesn’t and is one of the items NASA will insist works flawlessly before a crew ever rides on Starship.

      If you go back to the Columbia disaster, one of the lessons learned, apart from never stick a crewed vehicle next to a cryogenic tank, was have a launch abort system from ground to orbit. Orion-SLS has one that has been thoroughly tested, all successfully.

      SpaceX just failed it’s first such test.

      • That’s how SpaceX does it …launch …failure… learn ..launch was the same way with every rockett he made .. are you clueless

        • And…so what? My article details the test flight’s many shortcomings that resulted in failure. Being blown-up prior to entering orbit is failure. And fixing this failures is going to take more time than many Elon fan club members realize. Come on, bet me!

        • You get it right! Columbia! Don’t you remember that disaster? You know, the one’s launch during which a briefcase size of spray-on insulation shed-off, got into the slip stream, which accelerated to a high enough velocity that when it smashed into the port wing leading edge RCC panel, number 8 as I recall, it blasted a hole that was estimated to be feet across and dooming the crew on its return.

    • Hi Mark,

      Starship is the launch abort system for the Starship-SHB stack. Ask SpaceX. It did not abort the flight, that is eject itself from a failing booster. It is a big deal in the space business when a launch abort system doesn’t and is one of the items NASA will insist works flawlessly before a crew ever rides on Starship.

      If you go back to the Columbia disaster, one of the lessons learned, apart from never stick a crewed vehicle next to a cryogenic tank, was have a launch abort system from ground to orbit. Orion-SLS has one that has been thoroughly tested, all successfully.

      SpaceX just failed it’s first such test.

  4. You come off as very judgmental in this article. If your a literal rocket scientist go ahead and put in an application at spaceX and help with all the issues you listed. This was a test flight, the company stated that this test flight was just that, no one expected it to launch orbit and land. You come off like there were people on board and this was a huge failure, give credit where credit is due.

    • Please, list for me the successes of this test flight other than clearing the tower and successfully making it through MaxQ, both of which I noted.

      The booster guidance failed. Six, or nearly 20%, of the Raptor engines, failed. The launch abort system failed. The flight termination system allowed the rocket to cartwheel through the air, something you’d have to go back to the late 1950’s or dawn of the 1960’s to see in the US space program. Any one of these is bad; back-to-back they are very bad.

      The list of failures is significant. And their impact to SpaceX’s Starship test schedule will be too. The company tried to cut corners on a flame deflector or water deluge system. Now the conpany’s chickens are coming home to roost.

      • What are you comparing and complaining this SX Starship launch to? I will wait. Blue Origin? Boeing? The SLS which is based on established Shuttle tech but still was delayed over a decade and cost 10’s of billions to develop. It will cost $4 billion a flight so you’re not doing much in space at that price tag.

        As of now the Falcon launch system seems to be working just fine and it’s success. It buys SX a certain amount of leeway in testing it’s Starship aggressively. The future of the company wasn’t riding on this launch. Having real live data on losing a few engines during launch will be very valuable in the final design. If there was no immediate danger to anything, why not let it tumble out of control to see how well it held together?

        Understanding with real data how destructive the damage to the launch pad would be might of been the biggest unknown for attempting to landing or launching on the moon/Mars. Data gained will have a huge impact on the final Artemis 3 design.

        Why build everything and get everything working if you only have “kicked the can” on the real problem of trying to land and take off on the surface of the moon and Mars with this or any launch system. SX already knows how to launch and land rockets on Earth.

        Doing it on another world is quite a different challenge and bolting on landing legs isn’t the quick fix. Hopefully you want to do more than just stick a flag in the ground and take a few pictures this time. Doing anything interesting will require 100’s if not 1000’s of tons of equipment.

        Throwing 10’s or 100’s of billions at a problem and delaying things by decades is not a solution but a government jobs program. Creative solutions are required.

        • Alright, here’s my list:
          1. SLS – The list of actual Shuttle era hardware isn’t large and all of it had to be upgraded. For example, the RS-25’s have new controllers. The Orion Service Module Main Engine is a rebuilt Shuttle OMS engine and a new controller. Now, what’s new on the SLS? Pretty much everything. The Core Stage LH2/LOX tankage is all new, as are the inter tanks, the engine section (probably the SLS’s most complicated piece), the thrust structure in the engine section, the engine gimbaling systems, the spacecraft launch adapter, the Orion European Service Module, the Orion RCS, the Orion spacecraft, the Launch Abort System, the…well, you get the idea. And SLS wasn’t delayed; it was in development; there is a large difference. And, as we all saw late last year, it appears that the 11 years was well spent in building a rocket that worked, that met every objective set. Maybe moving fast and breaking things isn’t the only way to get to space?

          1. Ares 1-X – I just learned that the Ares 1-X, which was never intended to go into space, went higher–45 nmi–than did Starship. The launch was a success in testing the Ares 1-X idea.
          2. New Shepard – How many times did this system succeed before finally having an inflight issue? A dozen times? And did the capsule eject when the booster went bad? Yes.

          3. Boeing Delta IV – How many times in the Delta IV’s 21 year history did it not make it to space? I think the number is…0.

          4. Lockheed Martin Atlas V – 0 failures.

          5. Vulcan – We’ll know soon enough.

          6. New Glenn – Same as Vulcan.

          Yes, Falcon 9 is doing great. I didn’t say it wasn’t, did I? Congrats to SpaceX and to Elon having a good person like Gwynne Shotwell running the place and making sure that the F9 system hums.

          Elon was well aware that there was a risk to not having the flame trench and water deluge system that nearly all launchpads use to redirect and dissipate the energy of engine start and operation. Elon chose not to use those systems because he would have had to get a full environmental impact statement process at the cost of a few more years of delay. SpaceX got its PEA approved instead. But there were stipulations to continuing that approval, like not seriously impacting the local wildlife refuge.

          Given that large chunks of reinforced concrete debris are scattered all over the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a place Elon called a wasteland, it will be interesting to see if SpaceX’s supplemental waivers from FWS and other federal agencies survive. A post on ESGHound appears prescient, if not a bit conservative, now.

          Elon is now talking about a cooled steel plate to underlie the launchpad, which some far smarter and more educated than me say just might work to stop launchpad damage. But what that system won’t do is handle the shockwaves from the engines. As NASA learned, nearly to the detriment of the first Shuttle mission, a water deluge system is necessary sometimes. And that, according to people who have a lot of experience in this area, means new permitting. And delays in the Starship program.

          Talking about 100’s of millions to billions of dollars, NASA now faces the tough job of how to get Congress to give SpaceX more money to fix all of its Starship problems and quickly so that the Artemis III mission isn’t turned into one similar to Artemis II instead of a lunar landing. For this person, who started out covering the Great Space Debate congressional hearings of 2010-2011, it is going to be almost as much fun as it was in March 2010 hearing Gwynne Shotwell testify before then-Senator Nelson’s Space Subcommittee that SpaceX would be flying astronauts to ISS within 3 years of receiving funding.

  5. The number of sky is falling people who are condemning SpaceX for doing what’s it’s done for the last decade is incredible to me. They have 7!!!! more SuperHeavies and Starships under construction. They can nearly make a single engine in one day. NASA spends more money for fewer results that come much slower. SpaceX will not only put men on the moon but on Mars and possibly in the asteroid belts. If we relied on governments to do this, it would never happen.

    They can figure out how to make the first reusable rocket in history but they can’t figure out how to dig a trench and put down new concrete. The federal government are the ones that are going to have to be efficient and help them do that. That seems completely reasonable to me. That would be sarcasm.
    Debris ejected from the launch pad hit a car that was 200 yards away. Shocking. Dust settled 5 miles away. Astounding. Staggering. Horrifying.

    How about we just believe the company that made the damn thing that said that this was a success and cleared the minimum requirements and that they were happy with the data they were going to be able to use?

  6. JIm, you sound like you work for ULA or Blue Origin. Your assessment is very “old school”, meant to disparage a very important test. If SpaceX worked at the pace you and the old boys prefer, we would be waiting for decades, not to mention spending untold trillions of dollars of taxpayer money.

    • My assessment is based on having lived through seeing 14 astronauts killed in two Shuttle disasters. I met a couple of them. My assessment comes from listening to ceremonies honoring those dead, of seeing their families grieve on TV, of having a professor, a former NASA Deputy Administrator, get emotional when talking about how senseless it was to lose the Challenger crew.

      That professor said, “The American people don’t like it when you kill their astronauts.” Words to live by.

      However, it seems that many cheering SpaceX on are inured to that truth. Maybe it is because they are too young to remember Challenger and Columbia, perhaps they are so full of go-fever they forget what happens when people cowboy in developing space hardware, or they are so enamored with Elon that they don’t care about the costs of failure as long as Elon succeeds.

      Some say NASA takes too long to develop its crewed space hardware. Those people don’t realize that many at NASA knew the astronauts who have died and those who will fly future Artemis missions. And that is why the 2014 Orion Test Flight and Artemis I test flight were flawless.

      That last part is something everyone rah-rahing Elon and SpaceX needs to reflect on. On Orion’s EFT-1 in 2014, the only failure was that 1 out of the 3 uprighting system balloons didn’t inflate. On the 2022 Artemis I test flight, the only thing that was unexpected was a bit more damage to thr mobile launch platform. None of those two issues are safety of flight issues or threats to a crew.

      SpaceX did have not just one but several failures that would stop any program for a thorough examination. I hope that as time passes the SpaceX fans out there will come to realize this. I’m not, however, expecting as much.

      • Jim, why do you make no mention of Starliner vs Dragon? If I dig through your article history will I find you similarly expressing doubt over Dragon, and praising Starliner? Let’s hope your paragon of perfection actually manages to ever deliver astronauts safely to the ISS, despite being years behind and multiples of the cost.

      • Sure enough, there it is. The article “questions galore after SpaceX dragon explodes during testing”, and nary a peep about Starliner issues, nor any recognition that Dragon had been a stunning success. You’re a shill, Jim, robbing all us taxpayers so your good ole boys club gets all our money while delivering nothing. You don’t care one bit about safety or integrity.

        • How many Starliners blew-up? 0! How many launch abort tests did Starliner fail? None. Did Starliner not at least make it back from what was otherwise a failed first test flight? Yes! And didn’t Boeing pay out of its own pocket $425M to redo that test flight? Yes! Has SpaceX ever done that, ever when it splattered critical cargo for ISS? No! Let’s keep going on this.



        • You might try to review your English grammar, specifically punctuation, as you had…well, none. Also, you seriously typed very nearly your whole comment in caps? What, you like shouting at people?!?!

          A great book to read is, “Panda Eats Shoots Leaves”

      • Jim,

        What does my criticism of your poorly written article have to do with NASA killing 14 astronauts? I was alive when both happened and watched the vehicle have many issues, including many lost tiles on its maiden flight. I also watched its contractors and NASA ignore many flights that foreshadowed the issues that would kill 14 people. (eg STS 27, 41). Did NASA stand down and do a thorough examination of the problem like you suggest SpaceX do?

        I am no fan of Elon Musk, but I have enjoyed watching SpaceX surpass Boeing, Lockheed Martin and ULA. Your defense of them and the well documented failures and close calls they ignored only proves my statement that you are a devotee of old school players who have been left in the dust by SpaceX.

        One last thing, you state OFT1 and SLS were flawless. This really shows your ignorance, even with your much flaunted degrees..

    • I have never worked for or received anything from either NASA or its contractors than an occasional gimme cap, which I always give away to my nephews. after earning an MS in Aerospace Engineering, I did work for JPL briefly though not quite fondly.

      • As a 40-year veteran of journalism, I want you to know that you did just fine. You see, you are threatening their Jesus Christ – Martian Emperor Elon. They are not rational. They are worshipers. Write your stories and ignore them. We need to hear the truth about their program, not their public relations. The US has given SpaceX $15.3 billion dollars since they started. It’s not all their money.

        • Thank you, John. Elon & crew will I suspect give me plenty of material during the development of the Starship lunar lander program. That’s is, if it survives this.

  7. To lazy to go into it in any detail, but the “tone” and the headline just … ugh.. just please go away. Of no use to anyone trying to move a difficult mission forward.

    • I don’t work to promote SpaceX as Elon has enough money to do that himself.

      I cover what happens. And the article is about what happened on the Starship test flight, concluding with its termination. If something spectacular happened on the Starship test flight, please let me know and I’ll update the article.

    • I just wrote about what SpaceX did. Maybe in addition to reading AmericaSpace, you should go work for SpaceX to help them fix the many problems on their Starship system?

      • We are assuming that the person writing this article, Jim, works for the Chinese government. Hates everything about SpaceX and what Elon is trying to achieve. Loves to waste taxpayer money by thinking old school space policies.

        • Ok, PutinXi. First off, nice anonymous name!

          I would never work for the Chinese, CCP, or any Chinese owned company.

          I don’t hate everything SpaceX.

          Try to get over your apparent cult of worship of Elon; you’re going to ultimately be let down, as have so many.

          List for me the failures of Orion EFT-1 and Artemis I. Now, it’s going to be hard, so I’ll be patient. Did the Artemis program happen as fast as any of us would like? No. But did it work darn near flawlessly on its first launch and lunar mission? Yes. What does this mean? Well, maybe that time cannot be compressed, that moving fast and breaking things may sound profound–ok, maybe only to a couple here–but maybe it’s not the best way to move forward on crewed flight.

  8. No…that’s your boy Elon who props up China…he’s building another factory there…
    while you want to kill all American SLS jobs. Propping up America’s enemies what you all about “Putin Xi?”

    That’s more unaffordable than SLS…and Starship might just be unaffordable to Musk.

    Jim is the author of piece above…and it is quite fair.

    Others have tried in vain to have oldspace and new not be “peeing in each other’s shoe as Dennis Wingo put it…who actually proposed SLS to help grow ISS:

    Jim Hillhouse tried to play nice with the NewSpacers…saying they and OldSpace needed to be “praising the hell out of each other.”

    He tried to be nice to you trolls.

    But no…

    So I’m not going to hold back either.

    SLS rocks
    Starship blows chunks

  9. Excellent and even handed analysis. Thank you. This was a much needed sober look in the face of the deluge of Musk cultists that blindly worship a narcissistic toddler.

    You are very correct to highlight the quandary NASA now finds itself in, having tied the Artemis 3-4-5 missions to a completely unreliable pothead.

    They will need to quickly develop alternatives and go on with the moon mission and beyond with the help of serious professionals that have the right stuff.

    • It’s amazing how the Mush-guzzlers blindly accept his offerings, lapping it up with such fervor.
      He said, a long time back, that it would launch in December 2021. 15 months later….
      I think mush himself should be on the first starship that lands on the moon. It would be priceless to read his final tweets begging to be rescued.

      • 15 months later, because an FAA hostile to him slow-walked the approvals to make sure SLS got 5x the taxpayer dollars. For something that isn’t reusable. Who’s the one guzzling the koolaid?

        • You really need to get up to speed on how hard the FAA had to work to get SpaceX’s PEA over the finish line so that SpaceX could launch Starship’s.

          Elon made choices about designing his launchpad that have come back to bite SpaceX, like no flame trenches or water deluge system. He did so because he didn’t want to go through the trouble of a full environmental assessment. Screw the government, right!?!?

          If he’d just spent the money and time, his launchpad wouldn’t have disintegrated, blasted three of his raptor engines before Starship even cleared the tower, and likely set his program back by 1-2 years.

  10. What a hack job this is. It’s full of speculation with no serious understanding of SpaceX operations. You must be on the ULA payroll.

  11. It sounds like you’re no longer in the industry, which is a blessing. It’s attitudes like yours that had led the US space industry to rely on Russian capability and cost-plus contacts for billions fleecing the American taxpayer. Perhaps you didn’t pay attention to, or don’t remember, how many times falcon failed before they were successful. Now it still remains the only way US astronauts are getting to space. Your no-failure model, Boeing, is years behind schedule.

    Get out of the way, and keep your fear, uncertainty and doubt peddling to yourself.

  12. Let’s put everything into perspective, while also providing positive credit to this author for his critical thinking.
    Yes, we need the critics to dredge up the unsavory, while keeping them at arms length as the champions do what they have repeatedly proven many times over they do, which is blow our minds with solutions to deadlines. It does reek of animosity to assume the most critical details like timing or execution of commands from mission controllers. I would rather trust the mission statements from the people closest to the buttons for insight required to write an article about the performance of systems the button pushers created and operated.
    That said, the critique, with all angles covered, really is a valuable and worthy offering…and I will add that there are uncovered angles still that I am not qualified to present.
    I have no doubt that Space-X and it’s customer will take every consideration in proper stride and continue to blow our minds and silence the critics.
    Now my personal take from this launch…
    What a show!
    The ground disintegrated under the vehicle as it’s wildly unprecedented thrust potential lifted the test vehicle up and away from starbase to a safe altitude before terminating upon command from mission operators at Space-X, providing ample data on flight safety aspects that will be improved upon for the upcoming starship launches.
    Let me add, it’s entirely possible that if there were no more tests, and the next mission was to land humans on the moons surface and return them safely home, Space-X would succeed within a year.
    Thank you Space-X for another amazing performance.

      • *Before, not Defore.
        Although that could be a new word for describing prior events… Lol

        Stupid humans.

    • And we need to go back to the Moon why? Isn’t this kind of meaningless nationalistic chest pounding better left to those who need to prove it like the Chinese, the Indians, Zimbabwe? Space is just a new take on the military-industrial complex corporate welfare scheme. There’s nothing up there we want or need.

    • Fyi…
      The FTS didn’t destroy the rocket when activated, aerodynamic forces did that. So even THAT failed (though it is a testament to the robustness of starship, though it means that a better FTS needs to be installed).

    • You naked the BLOW part, except you left out all the blowing mush-heads give to their apartheid God.
      Deadlines? Did you forget Mush’s bold claims of this launching in December 2021?
      Of course SLS and the Boeing starliner aren’t any better.
      We the people have given all these corrupt contractors BILLIONS of our tax dollars. We need accountability as well as results.

  13. Wow this writer was obviously hired by another competitor company. Several rockets in the past have flipped several time before it self-destructed. Well, I’ll take that back, they were probably destroyed due to structural failure before it activated self-destruct. Starship was obviously over designed if it survived the flips like that. Have it occurred to writer, maybe SpaceX knew how many engines were needed to clear the tower and added that into the coding? Or engines failed right after the point of no return? Look at Astro launch for example, the rocket took off side ways off the tower before it was destroyed.

    • I work for myself. I have never accepted anything more than a gimme cap from NASA or any company, aerospace or otherwise.

      List for all of us here the rockets launched on US soils that have done multiple loop de loops during ascent in the last 50 years.

  14. You’ve got to love the Elon worshipers on here telling us what an incredible success the explosion and destruction was. “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

  15. Look – it doesn’t matter how many billions of taxpayer dollars it takes or how many top experts are tied up in it – we HAVE to get back to the moon and space in general as soon as humanly possible because otherwise the… stuff we… need(?) up there… will be… mined(?)…by… Chinese(?)… aliens? New Frontier? Thank God we have all the money we need down here and all our cities are perfect.

  16. You need to stop calling it an “Orbital Test Flight” and what it actually is….the latest starship FAILURE. To date starship makes a far better bomb than a spacecraft….and a very poor bomb at that as who knows when it will blow up!

    I know all you Musk fan boys out there don’t want to come out from under Elon’s desk and accept the truth, but starship has been nothing more than a series of explosions. On top of that, stop attributing anything that SpaceX does to Musk, he is not responsible for ANY of it. He couldn’t design his way out of a paper bag, that is why 99 out of 100 of his ideas go up in a cloud of smoke created by the burning of billions of other people’s dollars. So wipe the cum off your lip and go find something useful to do.

  17. The technical term for this whole episode is Clown Show. The author was too kind. And the angry and vulgar response shows that cults plus hi tech produce danger.

    • I keep waiting for these critics of my article to provide me with either new insight to a Starship test flight success that I missed, which they haven’t yet done, or some failure of Orion EFT-1 or Artemis I that I’m unaware of, which again they haven’t. So what we have here is a clear inability to find the pony in the pile of horse manure that was this test flight.

      Otherwise, they call me an idiot, which is possible, or a schill for the old space. Incredible.

      • From this I will assume that “Jim” = “Jim Hillhouse” = article author = have huge context knowledge [and is possibly the (in)famous “Jim” of NasaSpaceFlight, but that isn’t relevant here]. The three (if a I get the time series correct) account label changes doesn’t help the reader’s context.

        Since this is effectively a partisan comment war thread instead of a bipartisan discussion, I will leave. I’ll leave with the remark that I was criticising the article – criticism is vital – and while that criticism did not engender any vital response it did provide some tamper to the overstatements in the article.

        There are more overstatements in the comments but I’m not Sisyphus.

        That the article is criticized does not mean that much failure points of the program were withdrawn (or not added, see the ground system wreckage) or conversely that inside and outside observers do not see it as a successful launch test. (I see that point as besides the article, which is necessary criticism but can be improved as per above.) Besides SpaceX and NASA official statements of progress I can now add Science’s and Nature’s articles:

        “Despite test flight failure, Starship poised to transform space science
        Rocket’s immense capacity and projected low cost has researchers dreaming big … Now that the rocket is inching toward maturity, calls are growing for astronomers and planetary scientists to take advantage of it.” – Science

        “SpaceX Starship: launch of biggest-ever rocket ends with explosion
        The SpaceX rocket made it partially through its first full test. It could change astrophysics and astronomy, as well as ferry people to the Moon and Mars. … Still, the fact that it got off the launch pad, powered by up to 33 engines firing in synchrony, marks a substantial step beyond what SpaceX has been able to do so far with its most ambitious rocket.” – Nature

        • Gotta love the high and mighty folks….you will take your imagined high road so your ego can bolster your imagined moral superiority, but not before running your mouth for 20 minutes. As I said before….either climb out from under Elon Musk’s desk, wipe the cum off your mouth, and find something useful to do or stay under there and be ignorant.

        • Torbjörn, yes, my name is Jim Hillhouse. I have, to the best of my knowledge, always used my full name. I assumed that people here would know that the commenter Jim was the author of this post. I don’t think for most of the readers that I assumed too much.

          Also, to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t been on more than a handful of times since I and a few others started in 2009. I was somewhat active in their forums covering Constellation, a.k.a. Artemis. But, you know, after starting this site, it didn’t seem to make much sense to spend time playing over there.

          If you’re looking to connect some more dots of my identity “conspiracy”, I’ve been published at “Space News” and “Aviation Week & Space Technology“ and did comment on “NASA Watch” at least up through 2009, maybe into 2010.

 arose out of the lack of balanced coverage of human spaceflight in the run-up to and during the Great Space Debate, when the Obama era NASA leadership tried like mad, and with the help of Elon & Co.–yes, to end our nation’s government, people-owned, human spaceflight program.

          Now, to your other point. Let me see if I get this straight. Because Nature and Science gave Elon and SpaceX a participation award for their orbital test flight and rhe possible “revolution” it will in their opinion bring to spaceflight, I’m therefore supposed to gloss over the abject failures of this orbital test flight that were on rather public display?

          Good luck with that as it isn’t going to happen by me here! So, why am I covering this? Is it because I hate Elon, who I’ve never met?

          Some have criticized the fact that I haven’t covered Crew Dragon or Starliner, in particular Starliner’s less than stellar test flight history. I haven’t covered those programs much since they are, in my opinion, side shows to the rather more important goal of returning to the Moon. That’s just the way I roll.

          I did cover the explosion of the Crew Dragon because, well, no aerospace company had blown-up their a crewed spacecraft in decades, if ever, and had video of the event. Also, Elon spiced things up by claiming that LockMart had Israeli snipers pick it off. It was simply too juicy to pass-up.

          I am covering the Starship test flight because, once NASA’s pre-Biden leadership made the decision that SpaceX would be the only ride down to the Moon’s surface for years to come, its failure has a very direct affect of NASA’s and it’s partners’ goal and schedule of landing astronauts on the Moon..

          The sad thing about all of this is that the engineers, technicians, and others at SpaceX are top-notch. This wasn’t their failure. It was a failure of leadership, in particular that of Elon as Starship has been his pet project from the get-go. Now Shotwell has to clean his mess up.

          And the American taxpayers will foot the bill. As we always have with Elon.

          • For years, the SLS bashers had the floor..but I cheered the SEC chant a different way…


            • Yes they did. But have fortunes ever changed! And the more time that passes, the worse things look for one group who, as it happened, led the anti-SLS chants.

  18. Hi Jim, great article. As a mechanical engineer, and a fan of history, seeing all the praises thrown at this failure of a launch was driving me mad. Anyone who knows anything about space flight or the history of the Apollo program would know that they managed to not only clear the tower with Apollo 4 but get into orbit. All that without Ansys, AutoCAD, Solidworks, using slide rules.

    People are going to lose their lives on this pathetic rocket. One only needs to compare all the means of aborting launch Apollo had at its disposal with Starship.

    Anyway, ignore the haters and Musk bootlickers, keep up the good work. Cheers

  19. One month after the launch, this article has aged extremely poorly, just some examples:

    “NASA in particular is left with some hard choices arising from choosing Starship as its sole lunar lander for the Artemis III mission.”: Now NASA has selected a 2nd lander from Blue Origin, yet this 2nd lander shares many of the attributes of Starship HLS: It also requires a new still not flown launch vehicle (New Glenn, which is even more delayed than Starship), it also require orbital refilling of cryogenic propellant (liquid hydrogen in this case, harder than liquid methane used by Starship), it also requires multiple launches. So there’s zero chance this new lander would have been faster to develop than Starship.

    “Some of that work may, likely will, require additional federal government participation.”: Wrong, SpaceX is busy repairing the launch pad, no additional federal government participation is needed, they’re just doing it.

    “The failure of the booster’s guidance & control to detect that the booster was off its normal ascent trajectory, that it was looping during its ascent, and to terminate the flight for a full 1 m 19 s that the booster performed over 3 loop de loops is another issue that will have to be addressed.”: Also wrong, as Elon explained in his twitter spaces interview, FTS activated normally, there is no GNC failure to detect that the booster is off course, it’s just FTS explosive is not powerful enough to break apart the booster immediately.

    “More critically for the aspirations of future crewed flight is the failure of the Starship, the launch abort system for the Starship stack, to abort when the booster experienced issues during ascent or when the booster went off its nominal trajectory. Whether this was due to the booster’s own systems not detecting an issue or with Starship remains to be determined.”: Again explained by Elon that this was never programmed into the software for this test, because they want Starship to reenter at a precise location near Hawaii, they don’t want to separate Starship unless they’re sure it can hit the target.

    “For the first time in American spaceflight history, the goals of the space program, in the case of Artemis III to land astronauts once again on the Moon’s surface, are hitched to the progress of a single space company over which NASA has little or no control.”: This is just as wrong one month ago as it is now, but this rhetoric is so wrong I have to comment on it: No, it’s not the first time NASA depends on a single company, Orion depends on Lockheed Martin – a single company, SLS core stage depends on Boeing – a simple company, SLS booster depends on Northrop Grumman – also a single company.

    “It is worth reminding that the Starship lunar lander has no descent abort capability. “: First of all, it’s wrong, Starship HLS does have descent abort capability. Second, NASA just selected Blue Moon as 2nd HLS lander, and it’s also a single stage lander just like Starship, and if you think Starship doesn’t have “descent abort capability”, Blue Moon doesn’t have it either, so clearly NASA doesn’t think this is an issue.

    • That’s not the way I see it. Nor increasingly by people within NASA that I talk to. Far from it.

      Here are my point-by-point rebuttals.

      – Blue Origin’s contract is for a lander for later Artemis missions starting in 2029. Which leaves about a 2-3 year gap, if all goes well for Blue, between SpaceX’s scheduled landing for Artemis III sometime in 2026 or so. I do applaud NASA making this agreement.

      – SpaceX doesn’t need gov’t help
      You should take to guys at NASA who work with SpaceX. They need help. A lot of help. With Starship. Filling-in craters is one thing. Getting permission to launch again is another. Are you on the FAA mishap team? Me neither. So let’s wait and see on this. Also, keep an eye on the DC Circuit Court.

      – SHB FTS activated after all
      How long did it take the Booster FTS to actually destroy the vehicle? A minute? A minute and a half? Two minutes? And given that time gap, how far would the Booster travel had it been oriented on a trajectory towards say, Brownsville? Most…no, all FTS’s seem able to disassemble a launch vehicle in a few seconds because they have strip charges that split the vehicle wide-open. Not so with SHB. And why not?

      – Starship Abort Capability
      So, let me see if I get this straight. Elon said that the abort capability of Starship wasn’t enabled because that would affect its mission to land in Hawaii? Seriously? How? I mean, Orion has a LAS, and its service module is a later stage of launch abort system, and that doesn’t seem to affect its ability to orbit the Moon. How does enabling the abort system of Starship affect its ability to subsequently proceed in other mission activities? Or are you telling me, without realizing it, that SpaceX doesn’t yet have the launch abort capability enabled because it hasn’t yet been developed? More likely than not, that’s the reason.

      – Orion depends on Lockheed Martin – a single company, SLS core stage depends on Boeing – a simple company, SLS booster depends on Northrop Grumman
      Did you know that all of those elements are owned by the government, NASA in particular? That SLS is produced in a government owned facility, Michoud? That the government could take the blue prints of any one of those systems, give those to another contractor, and award a contract to build that system? That is patently not the case with any of the commercial entities save only if companies file for dissolution, provided that a substantial amount of their funding came from NASA. If SpaceX tomorrow decided to cease Dragon development, absent a clause in the lunar lander contract with NASA, the space agency would be at a complete loss and back to square one on a lunar lander. Well, given where SpaceX is, NASA sorta already is.

      –Starship Lunar Lander has a descent abort capability
      Really? What would that be. I’d sure like a document referencing it because my NASA sources at several centers tell me otherwise. But I am 110% confident you don’t have such a document because the descent abort capability doesn’t exist. Instead, if something goes wrong on a Starship Lunar Lander during descent, the abort capability is for the astronauts to (hopefully) have enough time to say good-bye to their families while they wait to become permanent monuments to human spaceflight.

      I’m going to penultimately close by noting that Elon is about as straight a talker as a circle. Breathlessly repeating what he says as your “evidence” isn’t going to change many minds, save his fan club. Having followed him since the early 2000’s, I can say he is pretty much a constant stream of BS. Don’t agree?

      Let’s walk down memory lane towards several years ago, to 2015, to recall Elon’s Red Dragon PR stunt. Why is it BS? If you know the optimal trajectory windows for Earth-Mars missions, you needn’t ask. See AIAA 2011-7216. Per that paper, “The orbital mechanics cycle of the Earth and Mars has a period of 15 years, and a minimal delta-V phase of the cycle in the early 2030’s.” For a vehicle even half as heavy as a stripped-down Dragon, during 2015-2019 it would have been extraordinarily difficult if not impossible for even a FH to launch Red Dragon with enough propellant to enter and land on Mars and then have a smaller payload launch from Mars and get back to Earth. Where’s Red Dragon? Probably same place as Cyber Truck, FSD, Twitter, and so on.

  20. I thought the article was informative. I don’t see the point in taking sides in some pro or anti-Musk debate. He’s clearly good at rockets with Dragon/Falcon Heavy being great successes. But how could he have made such a stupid mistake as to let a rocket of Starship’s power just blast away at concrete and hope for the best? Isn’t it a case of basic engineering – materials’ resistance versus energy? Didn’t he have an civil engineer around who could work it out with basic mathematics? A real blunder like a twelve- year old with pyrotechnics. He rolled the dice unnecessarily and now has set back the programme at least a year.

    • It’s clear, he isn’t as smart as his fan club says. Also, he’s not a rocket scientist. He’s had some good ideas and hired the right people, certainly, but his hubris is as vast as his ego.

      • Charlie Munger has said more than once that Musk overestimates himself. He also added that one should never underestimate someone who overestimates themself.

        Today, it is clear SpaceX’ Starship stands at a precipice.. NASA put all of its Artemis III lunar landing eggs in the Starship basket. If it becomes woefully apparent that Starship development is delayed to the point that it will not be ready for the Artemis III Mission, Starship is done.

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