SpaceX Starship launch under FAA investigation after raining potentially hazardous debris on homes and beaches

Feb 17, 2023
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The article is misleading. *ALL* failed launches are investigated. Even the failed Falcon 1 launch at Kwajalein was investigated by the FAA and NASA. And they always look at everything. When the Falcon 9 blew its top on the pad during fueling, they also looked at the debri field. The media is making it sound like a crisis of epic proportion when in fact it is normal standard operating procedure. Please media, move on to your next crisis and let everyone involved get back to work.
 
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Apr 17, 2020
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Why the extra scrutiny? Over 550 days before the FAA finally approved the plan for the premier test flight of a major global gamechanger. With very little time to get this system up and running, Mr. Nelson needs to get the Biden Adminstration up to speed, otherwise it will be decades and most of us older folks want to see a set of boots on Mars before we depart to the heavens.
You just know the FAA will drag their feet and the enviromentalists will say how dangerous it is to have some dust falling on endangered sea turtles and it will drag out for the rest of this year. I hope I'm wrong but we know the government and how they work. Plus I think that even though musk is partnering with nasa, there are elements within the current administration that hate musk. I saw a "news" article headlined something like "a disastrous week for elon musk" they want' him to fail as they drive his tesla's everywhere and enjoy his starlink internet but they don't like his politics which is simply just questioning the status quo and seeing reality
 
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Apr 27, 2023
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All the talk from Elon worrying about what will happen to the launch tower if a launchpad mishap, but there is no possible failure mode accounted for in the licence to what will happen to the public if there is a launchpad explosion.

My research shows that a 1K ton of TNT equivalent explosion will send a shockwave that 5 miles out will be 170db. This is equivalent to 1/16 of Nagasaki. Its roughly the same as the Texas City port blast. Or twice the blast of a Saturn 5. Think instant hearing loss, organ and brain damage for folks at the 5 mile "safe" perimeter. And, possible surface max earthquake of 3-5. Are the high rises of South Padre Island ready for that?

The failed launch last week was very close to being a launchpad explosion had a few more engines shutdown due to flying debris... and the Starship gracefully sunk back to the launchpad crushing the fuel tanks.

The sound pressure level assessment provided for the license only accounts for what the public will encounter in a nominal launch.

Cape Canaveral has 4x more distance to surrounding public homes than Boca Chica, but the Starship with Super Heavy Booster is twice has blast potential than Saturn 5, the rocket that put man on the moon. Seems like there is a story to write about as to why Elon does not launch his Starship with Super Heavy Booster from the "safer" location.

Hopefully, this new license will include the launchpad explosion scenario and the public can finally see the numbers of what to be prepared for in sound level and anticipated property damage. This is many times louder than rock concert if 170db? Yeah, the animals are going to really get organ damage that are within the 5 mile zone.

The licensing process last time included letting the public ask questions. There were no questions about what happens in a launchpad explosion. The public did not know to ask that question because they assume the government is looking out for them?
 
Nov 29, 2022
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My research shows that a 1K ton of TNT equivalent explosion will send a shockwave that 5 miles out will be 170db. This is equivalent to 1/16 of Nagasaki. Its roughly the same as the Texas City port blast. Or twice the blast of a Saturn 5. Think instant hearing loss, organ and brain damage for folks at the 5 mile "safe" perimeter. And, possible surface max earthquake of 3-5. Are the high rises of South Padre Island ready for that?


The chart in 3.1 seems to indicate about a 10% mapping of fuel weight to TNT yield. So a 1k ton of rocket fuel would be 100 ton TNT explosion.

Not small, but also not 1/21 of Nagasaki, which FYI was 21kT not 16kT (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Man). LittleBoy/Hiroshima was 15kT
 
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The article is misleading. *ALL* failed launches are investigated. Even the failed Falcon 1 launch at Kwajalein was investigated by the FAA and NASA. And they always look at everything. When the Falcon 9 blew its top on the pad during fueling, they also looked at the debri field. The media is making it sound like a crisis of epic proportion when in fact it is normal standard operating procedure. Please media, move on to your next crisis and let everyone involved get back to work.

Who is being misleading here? This is directly from the above article:
"The FAA will oversee the mishap investigation of the Starship/Super Heavy test mission," FAA officials wrote in a statement on April 20(opens in new tab). "A return to flight of the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations."

Where is the misleading part in the article? I'll tell you where the misleading part is, it is Elon Musk / SpaceX stating any damage resulting from a mishap would be limited to within 1-square mile of the launch site. When in fact, there is damage /debris/toxicity spread over 6-square miles from the launch site. Did you see the damage to the fuel tanks near the site? This came very close to being a catastrophe.
 
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You just know the FAA will drag their feet and the enviromentalists will say how dangerous it is to have some dust falling on endangered sea turtles and it will drag out for the rest of this year. I hope I'm wrong but we know the government and how they work. Plus I think that even though musk is partnering with nasa, there are elements within the current administration that hate musk. I saw a "news" article headlined something like "a disastrous week for elon musk" they want' him to fail as they drive his tesla's everywhere and enjoy his starlink internet but they don't like his politics which is simply just questioning the status quo and seeing reality

"SpaceX could have prevented the damage, but it disregarded building better launch infrastructure, says Eric Roesch. He is an environmental compliance specialist who blogs about SpaceX. For one, he says, the company did not invest in proven launch infrastructure, like a flame trench, which diverts most of the thrust of the rocket."

"It sure seemed like the decision to not do these very basic channels or flame protection or systems that you see everywhere else was a matter of convenience."

"Roesch says SpaceX was too eager to launch its largest rocket. CEO Elon Musk said a steel plate was supposed to go under the launch pad, but it wasn't ready in time. SpaceX thought the concrete would hold based on the static fire test held in February, but that test was only at 50% thrust. Roesch says that the environmental review SpaceX gave to the FAA underestimated Starship's power. What the company called a successful launch actually caused as much damage it had predicted for a full-on explosion on the launchpad."

"Besides grounding the Starship program, the FAA has activated its mishap response plan. It requires SpaceX to work with state and federal agencies to remove the debris and survey the damage. In a statement, the agency says it will make sure SpaceX complies with environmental regulations."

All because Musk lies about every project he is working on, from his Boring company, to Tesla and SpaceX. He feels he is above everyone and does not have to follow the rules / laws everyone else does.
 
Apr 27, 2023
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For simplicity, the "BFR" made a BFM and moved a lot of BFD as it lifted off, slowly, from the pad (that should have had blast trenches. Was surprised to see there were none). Legend: Big F---ing Mess and Big F---ing Debris. I was amazed to see how much debris was cleared by the BFR. That's a whole bunch of thrust and no one thought it was going to toss boulders like pebbles? Watch the footage from down range and you can see a bunch of really big stuff hitting the water, along with all the small stuff. Will be interesting to see how this all unfolds before next launch.
 
Apr 24, 2023
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The author says: "Problems with as many as eight of the rocket's 33 Raptor 2 engines caused Starship to flip and roll".

I thought it was clear from the launch attempt that a flip was expected as part of separating from the booster. Now it's because of problems with some of the engines?
 
Apr 24, 2023
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If Musk always did what others expected of him, there would be no Tesla company, there would be no vertically landing Falcon 9, and there would be no Starlink. I think it's amazing that he dreams big accomplishes incredible feats that nobody else has dared to try. It's ok for Musk to try new things, so chill a little bit.
 
Apr 21, 2023
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TL;DR: SpaceX were the ones who started the investigation, FAA is currently helping them.
I would like to acknowledge that SpaceX were the people who started the investigation. Because of the fact that nobody (or things) pubicly were harmed, the FAA legally cannot file an investigation. However, SpaceX DID ask the FAA to help with the(ir) investigation. Liscence for the OFT expires in 5 years, so we still have awhile until they can't launch.

The newer booster version is much more dated than B7 (O7). The entire reason why B7 lost control was because the HPU exploded. The HPU were the little "shields" in between the chimes. Those helped control the engines so they could steer. Without them, they couldn't steer. B9 does not have an HPU, and its engines are controlled electrically, not hydraulically, like B7.

Because of the changes, the next IFT attempt will have a higher chance of succeeding.
Although the FAA has grounded starship, that doesn't mean its because they are grounding it because they want it to be grounded. Although we do have innacurate elon time (tm), repairs for the OLM+Testing B9 would take about 6-10 months or 1 year.
 
Apr 27, 2023
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The author says: "Problems with as many as eight of the rocket's 33 Raptor 2 engines caused Starship to flip and roll".

I thought it was clear from the launch attempt that a flip was expected as part of separating from the booster. Now it's because of problems with some of the engines?
Don't think that quote is accurate either. It rolled right on time, but with the whole darned first stage still attached! TOUGHEST SHIP EVER! It flopped around at 2K MPH and didn't break up. I was shocked. thought for sure it would rip apart. They had to blow it up.
 
Apr 27, 2023
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The chart in 3.1 seems to indicate about a 10% mapping of fuel weight to TNT yield. So a 1k ton of rocket fuel would be 100 ton TNT explosion.

Not small, but also not 1/21 of Nagasaki, which FYI was 21kT not 16kT (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Man). LittleBoy/Hiroshima was 15kT
Good find @Vitaliy

The chart in 3.1 seems to indicate about a 10% mapping of fuel weight to TNT yield. So a 1k ton of rocket fuel would be 100 ton TNT explosion.

Not small, but also not 1/21 of Nagasaki, which FYI was 21kT not 16kT (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Man). LittleBoy/Hiroshima was 15kT
Good find! @vitiral
Paragraph 3.1.2 does allow for a case of as high as 30%. It is interesting that propellant weight to tnt yield is double test stand vs launchpad explosion. I would guess it's because there is historically more mixing happening of the propellants in the launchpad explosions. Ie. More thorough combustion of the propellant total weight caused by the chaos of the rocket exhaust?

So yes, agreed, either way a launchpad explosion is going to be "much" louder than a nominal rocket launch, so therefore should be factored in to evaluating the public safety for the licensing by the FAA. Hopefully, this is a wakeup call for the FAA.

It is interesting that the study you reference details historically explosion of 33 liquid propellant rockets in the US. So, yes, the FAA should make public, SpaceX's calculations of how loud a launchpad explosion of Starship with Super Heavy Booster would be for the surrounding area and public.

One more thought on how to deduce what the sound level would be for a launchpad explosion. Take the sound pressure readings from the explosion last week and work the data backwards. It's probable that the second explosion was the Starship fuel tanks cooking off. We know the total propellant of the Srarship. Take the sound from that and scale it up to the total vehicle propellant weight of Starship with Super Heavy Booster on the launchpad.

Here is a SPL calculator to use...

Then make a sound level contour map for launch pad explosion scenario and add it to the licence data.

Thanks for catching my error on Nagasaki yield. It was actually Hiroshima that is 16kTon. I only added the comparison because the public has a hard time differentiating how much louder a launchpad explosion will be than a rock concert. They can rightly raise their expectations when Hiroshima is the comparison.
 
Apr 18, 2020
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The author says: "Problems with as many as eight of the rocket's 33 Raptor 2 engines caused Starship to flip and roll".

I thought it was clear from the launch attempt that a flip was expected as part of separating from the booster. Now it's because of problems with some of the engines?
The tumbling that the rocket actually did was obviously not what was intended. It was also plain from the video that at least eight engines were out, also not intended. Likely due to damage from debris kicked up at launch.
 
I am not so sure I believe the "loudness" calculations based on "TNT equivalence". The amount of energy released in an explosion is not the same as the loudness of that explosion. It depends on how fast the energy is released. Actual "explosives" are intended to release energy as fast as possible, creating shock waves (sound waves traveling faster than the local speed of sound) in order to be as destructive as possible. On the other hand "propellants" are typically chosen to not create shock waves - they are intended to "conflagrate" (burn without creating shock waves) instead of "detonate" (create shock waves).

That doesn't mean that they don't go "bang". For instance, modern gun powder is a propellant, not an explosive, but it does burn very rapidly at high pressures and it creates high pressure in gun barrels. The resulting high pressure in the gun barrel does result in a loud bang when that pressure is suddenly released at the muzzle when the bullet exits and uncorks it.

So, I am wondering just how fast the liquid methane and liquid oxygen can mix and burn, and how this affects the strength of the pressure wave that results. The idea of using the destruct sequence recordings to calibrate the analysis seems like a good idea.
 
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"SpaceX could have prevented the damage, but it disregarded building better launch infrastructure, says Eric Roesch. He is an environmental compliance specialist who blogs about SpaceX. For one, he says, the company did not invest in proven launch infrastructure, like a flame trench, which diverts most of the thrust of the rocket."

"It sure seemed like the decision to not do these very basic channels or flame protection or systems that you see everywhere else was a matter of convenience."

"Roesch says SpaceX was too eager to launch its largest rocket. CEO Elon Musk said a steel plate was supposed to go under the launch pad, but it wasn't ready in time. SpaceX thought the concrete would hold based on the static fire test held in February, but that test was only at 50% thrust. Roesch says that the environmental review SpaceX gave to the FAA underestimated Starship's power. What the company called a successful launch actually caused as much damage it had predicted for a full-on explosion on the launchpad."

"Besides grounding the Starship program, the FAA has activated its mishap response plan. It requires SpaceX to work with state and federal agencies to remove the debris and survey the damage. In a statement, the agency says it will make sure SpaceX complies with environmental regulations."

All because Musk lies about every project he is working on, from his Boring company, to Tesla and SpaceX. He feels he is above everyone and does not have to follow the rules / laws everyone else does.

The blame can mostly be on a flawed process whereby a commercial company is being given oversite by a government agency that has little experience in rockets. At least it should be an interagency affair to license. (NASA, OSHA, etc, including the military that will need to shoot it down if for some reason it starts heading for Houston?) Whose failed oversite was it that let the 911 actors get in the cockpit? It's easier now to get in the cockpit of a Starship?? Does SpaceX require FAA/military level security for the Starship GN&C? (Guidance, Navigation & Control) It would make 911 seem small if a hacker got in and redirected it to Houston. What would be the flight time to ___?___. Do the SpaceX programmers have security clearance? Many of US's top programmers are foreign nationals.

There are many gaps when letting a commercial company run a space program by media response. Commercial companies are expected to be motivated by making a profit. They don't have the fear of losing next years budget if they lose astronauts. They see the $ signs in controlling the whole world's access in cheap internet. That's what a successful Starship launch will profit.

From SpaceX's published sound survey for a "nominal" launch, OSHA would ask that a red line be painted across lower South Padre Island such that the people in the "rocket factory" of South Padre Island would know they need hearing protection past that point. What's good safe practice for normal US factory workers should be the same caution given to children on South Padre Island beaches? Believe me those painted red lines are super important if you want to hear your wife 30 years later. My Chemical plant experience showing through.

Wouldn't it be safer to launch from Cape Canaveral? YES. But that would mean SpaceX would have to abide under tighter more experienced oversite?
How much do we value getting cheaper internet?
 
Apr 27, 2023
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The blame can mostly be on a flawed process whereby a commercial company is being given oversite by a government agency that has little experience in rockets. At least it should be an interagency affair to license. (NASA, OSHA, etc, including the military that will need to shoot it down if for some reason it starts heading for Houston?) Whose failed oversite was it that let the 911 actors get in the cockpit? It's easier now to get in the cockpit of a Starship?? Does SpaceX require FAA/military level security for the Starship GN&C? (Guidance, Navigation & Control) It would make 911 seem small if a hacker got in and redirected it to Houston. What would be the flight time to ___?___. Do the SpaceX programmers have security clearance? Many of US's top programmers are foreign nationals.

There are many gaps when letting a commercial company run a space program by media response. Commercial companies are expected to be motivated by making a profit. They don't have the fear of losing next years budget if they lose astronauts. They see the $ signs in controlling the whole world's access in cheap internet. That's what a successful Starship launch will profit.

From SpaceX's published sound survey for a "nominal" launch, OSHA would ask that a red line be painted across lower South Padre Island such that the people in the "rocket factory" of South Padre Island would know they need hearing protection past that point. What's good safe practice for normal US factory workers should be the same caution given to children on South Padre Island beaches? Believe me those painted red lines are super important if you want to hear your wife 30 years later. My Chemical plant experience showing through.

Wouldn't it be safer to launch from Cape Canaveral? YES. But that would mean SpaceX would have to abide under tighter more experienced oversite?
How much do we value getting cheaper internet?
So, yes, I am agreeing with you that much more guidance is needed @Marcd2k
 
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If Musk always did what others expected of him, there would be no Tesla company, there would be no vertically landing Falcon 9, and there would be no Starlink. I think it's amazing that he dreams big accomplishes incredible feats that nobody else has dared to try. It's ok for Musk to try new things, so chill a little bit.
The problem with your theory starts with Musk not being the founder of Tesla. He had money to invest, then when he wanted more credit for things he had nothing to do with, he decided to steal the company from the original founders.
Second, do you really believe Tesla is here to save the world? The entire electric vehicle, electric everything, premise is built on keeping the public in the dark about what it will actually take to convert everything we use to an electric based system. The electric industry will cause more damage to the environment / Earth than fossil fuels ever did.
I agree pushing the space program is a good thing, but not when it is at any cost. There is still a responsibility for whoever is doing this kind of work (not just Musk) to follow rules and laws that have been in place well before this program existed. So, when his "trying new things" affects the lives of both humans and animals alike, there is no "chill a little bit".
 

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