Elon Musk Confirms SpaceX’s Rocket Test Accident From April

An image of SpaceX's brand new Raptor engines on a Starship rocket. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

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SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk confirmed earlier this month that an accident during a test led to a pipe in a rocket booster prototype flattening out of shape. SpaceX is currently building and testing the Starship next generation launch system in Boca Chica, Texas and the company rolled back its booster prototype from the launch pad to its development facilities earlier this month after another accident that resulted in a huge fireball at the base of the rocket.

Musk's comments were part of an interview uploaded on YouTube where he explained how SpaceX's Raptor 2 rocket engine is designed and shared other key nuggets of new information.

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The test in question was a pressurization test for Starship's Booster 7 prototype. Prior to another accident earlier this month, SpaceX had conducted this test in April and soon after unverified images started to make rounds on social media platforms claiming that the test had resulted in Booster 7's downcomer pipe flattening out. The downcomer is a pipe that transports the fuel from its Methane tank to the rocket engines, and since the tank is located on top of the liquid Oxygen tank, this pipe has to travel through the latter.

Since tanks on a rocket have to be pressurized in order to maintain their structural integrity, the downcomer itself also needs to be able to withstand these pressures. However, in the April test, this was not the case since the rocket part was damaged. and while the accident was not officially confirmed by SpaceX at the time, the company nevertheless transported the booster back to its testing facilities from the launch pad.

The Starship Booster 7's downcomer courtesy of a leaked image. Image: @Matte_Lowne/Twitter

Yet, living true to its culture of moving fast, SpaceX managed to transport the 230 feet tall rocket back to its facilities, repair it and then ship it back to the launch pad in just two weeks. Now, an interview given to Everyday Astronaut on YouTube by Mr. Musk confirms the accident, with the executive outlining that:

We had a slight issue with the Booster 7 test where we collapsed part of the LOX transfer tube. So we're gonna go in and repair the LOX transfer tube that collapsed. So that will probably take us a week to fix.

Joining in on the conversation, another SpaceX employee appreciated the fact that accidents such as these enable the company to learn from its mistakes. As opposed to traditional aerospace firms and government agencies, which design their equipment to exacting standards to ensure that nothing goes wrong at launch, SpaceX rapidly designs, tests, fails and then tweaks its designs to account for the failures. This approach has led to the company being the only one in the world that launches and lands medium lift rockets to and from orbit.

During his interview, Musk also shared information about the igniter design for his company's latest rocket engine. Starship will be powered by SpaceX's Raptor 2 engines, and igniters in any engine are responsible for igniting premixed fuel and oxidizer.

The executive shared that the new igniters are a proprietary SpaceX design and they are located inside the engine - and therefore preventing him from sharing any technical details that might harm U.S. security interests.

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In his words:

For Raptor 1 we have torch igniters in the main chamber. So you can see the torch, those things on the side there are the torch igniters. I mean, these guys, basically. So torch ignitors for the main chamber. But Raptor 2 has no torch igniters in the main chamber. So you can see it's much cleaner around the chamber area.

Mush also shared that the Raptor 2's ignition is a SpaceX "secret sauce" and that they have enabled the company to reduce complexity, failure modes, engine weight, costs and improved ignition reliability.

You can take a look at the full interview here:

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