Musk claims that venting liquid oxygen caused Starship explosion
Billionaire suggests a payload would have solved the problem. And we have a suggestion for who that payload could be
SpaceX boss Elon Musk has blamed a lack of payload coupled with the venting of liquid oxygen for last year's fiery end to the second flight of the company's Starship and Super Heavy combo.
During a company update posted on X (formerly Twitter) by SpaceX, Musk spent an hour telling the faithful about the company's achievements and his dreams of interplanetary spaceflight. He also provided an update on what happened on the most recent flight.
He said: "If it had had a payload, it would have made it to orbit. Because the reason it didn't quite make it to orbit was we vented the liquid oxygen, and the liquid oxygen ultimately led to fire and an explosion ... we normally wouldn't have had that liquid oxygen if we'd had a payload so, ironically, if it had had a payload it would have reached orbit."
Hmm. This writer is not a rocket scientist, but having something explode because of venting seems... bad. Musk did not explain how the venting caused the fire, only that things would have gone differently had there been a payload. Presumably because the liquid oxygen would have been consumed by the Raptor engines.
Still, the iterative approach used by SpaceX means the lessons will have been learned – Musk was keen to point out that the rocket did not destroy the launch pad this time around. Using a deluge of water to dampen the effects of launch has long been a staple of launches going back decades, but it took the creation of a crater for Musk and co to learn that particular lesson.
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The next launch could happen as soon as next month, although it does depend on the Federal Aviation Administration issuing a license. Musk told his audience that he reckoned there was a good chance of getting to orbit this time around, and listed a set of impressive goals for flight three. As well as getting the rocket to orbit without exploding, SpaceX intends to demonstrate an in-space engine burn and prove that it can also de-orbit the rocket.
It also wants to test transferring propellant between tanks – an essential milestone for SpaceX's role in NASA's Artemis program – and demonstrate the "Pez dispenser" payload door planned for full-sized Starlink satellites.
NASA recently confirmed that the Artemis program was slipping, with the first crewed landing now set for September 2026. Despite Musk's desire to reduce the gap between Starship launches and accelerate the cadence, SpaceX could certainly use the extra time. ®