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Could Starship SN10 Be the Successful One? We Await an Answer

Could Starship SN10 Be the Successful One
Could Starship SN10 Be the Successful One

SpaceX’s Starship development has caught the attention of many across the world, particularly after the spectacular flights of SN8 and SN9, both of which ticked multiple objectives for the vehicle and its radical design.

Overall, they were renowned successes, and created interest like I’ve never seen before in the spaceflight community. However, both vehicles failed on one crucial objective; landing.

But both instances have exposed failure points in the vehicle, something SpaceX have recognized and resolved. SN8 exposed an autogenous pressurization issue in the header tanks, now resolved by using helium to pressurize them. SN9 exposed a Raptor ignition flaw, which has now been resolved through redundancy mitigation in the landing burn.

The point being, existing failure points have now been resolved. At face value, if no more failure points crop up, there’s nothing that should stop SN10 from finishing the job SN8 and SN9 couldn’t quite achieve.

But rocketry is never that simple.

What’s SN10 been up to?

Starship SN10 took its place on Launch Pad A on January 29, alongside SN9 on Pad B, marking the first time we saw two Starships together at the launch site.

SN9 took flight four days later on February 2. In its aftermath all eyes were on SN10, and as usual with Boca Chica operations, its testing campaign was imminent already.

Unlike SN9, SN10 did not have its trio of Raptor engines installed prior to pad transport. Elon said this would happen after it completed its cryo test:

But as ever with Starship operations, plans change constantly so during the first week of January, the three Raptors were installed before the cryo.

And before long, the testing campaign begun with a cryogenic proofing test (cryo test) whereby the vehicle was loaded with superchilled liquid nitrogen to verify structural integrity.

This was completed on February 8, just six days after SN9’s flight.

Following the cryo test, a static fire was expected as usual, where the vehicle is held down but all three Raptor engines are ignited for a few seconds qualifying a multitude of hardware on the prototype, ready for flight.

Static fire occurred on February 23.

The static fire appeared to be a good duration, but as I outline, the rapid depressurization venting after shutdown hasn’t been a good sign in past static fires.

This vent releases all pressure from the liquid oxygen and liquid methane tanks, and allows for detanking to occur whereby the propellants can be withdrawn or boiled-off from the tanks. This naturally happens at the conclusion of a test, in order to safe the vehicle and allow work to continue at the pad.

But, to see it directly after the shutdown of engines usually signals an abort has occurred. The vehicle’s computer has detected an anomaly, and it seeks to safe the vehicle as soon as possible.

Usually, we have seen them withhold from detanking until a few minutes after the static fire, likely for data collection post-ignition. This is without computer intervention in the form of an abort.

Elon confirmed this shortly after:

As of present, a new replacement Raptor has been delivered to the launch site and will be swapped out with the anomalous one.

In keeping with past experiences, another static fire is highly likely.

This should hopefully be completed in the coming days, potentially more than a week.

The flight of SN10

In the aftermath of the first static fire, a flight depends on a successful second one and favorable weather.

At present, there are launch Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday (February 25, 26, 27), combined with road closures on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday (February 25, 26, March 1, 2).

As ever with these dates, they can change very easily. The bottom line is that a more solid estimation can be given once there is a nominal static fire, which we’re yet to have.

In regards to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for launch, there are no hurdles to jump.

How will SN10 make a success out of SN9’s failure?

As discussed in my other article, SN9 failed to land due to an anomalous Raptor failing to ignite on the landing burn. More detail on mitigation can be found there.

Since, NASASpaceFlight understand that incident was down to an “apparent ignitor issue” in the engine. This is unconfirmed, but the best indicator we have of the incident as there has been no official news.

According to Elon himself, these are the chances that SN10 will land:

Best of luck SN10, as always, we will be watching whatever the outcome.

Written By

Leo is an aerospace enthusiast, whose passion was sparked by SpaceX. He is specifically interested in the rocketry engineering of the company’s ventures.