SpaceX Starhopper and Raptor Engine Appear OK After Unexpected Fireball

SpaceX performed a test of their StarShip prototype StarHopper with a brand new serial number 6 Raptor Engine. The vehicle was tethered and held down.

The engine test appeared to go well at approximately 10:24 P.M. However, fou minutes after the engine test, the vehicle remained on fire until suddenly there was a large fireball.

Inspection in the morning seems to not show major damage to StarHopper.

20 thoughts on “SpaceX Starhopper and Raptor Engine Appear OK After Unexpected Fireball”

  1. You’ll probably get your hydrogen from the sulfuric acid clouds. You’ve got a strong incentive to use carbon fiber wherever possible, as hydrocarbon plastics will be using up hydrogen you’ll want for water.

    For other elements, you’ll have to mine them from the surface, by dredging from altitude. Might want to do that near the poles, reputedly that part of the atmosphere is well isolated from the rest by the circulation pattern, and a lot colder. (Less hot, anyway.)

    The chief advantage of colonizing Venus is that the gravity there virtually duplicates Earth, with that cloud level where the pressure and temperature are Earth-like, too. And the upper atmosphere circulates fast enough to give a reasonable day length if you’re floating up there.

    I personally think it’s an interesting theoretical possibility, but hardly the first place I’d pick to colonize.

  2. You don’t need hydrogen or helium to fill blimps on Venus. Regular air is a lifting gas there. Or, if unmanned, just nitrogen. There’s 3.5% nitrogen in the atmosphere of Venus. Most of the rest is CO2, which is fairly easy to separate out (and potentially can be split to get oxygen).

    Hydrogen is still useful to make plastics (combined with the CO2), but the sulfuric acid clouds may be a more convenient source for it than the 20 ppm of water vapor.

  3. You have water vapor 20 ppm and helium 12 ppm. Water vapor you can break into hydrogen and oxygen. So both hydrogen and helium are available but these are very low concentrations. You are going to need a lot of energy to separate that out. And anything you build your blimps out of, is going to leak like a sieve. That is a difficult balancing act to maintain. You probably need lithium, beryllium or boron films to slow that loss…which are not available in the atmosphere.
    Just about any rock out to the orbit of Jupiter sounds like a better option.
    Even for Venus I think an orbital space station is probably preferable. You can orbit so that you always have sunlight to power the solar panels. If you want to collect gasses you can send a ship to collect and possibly separate out and bring back just what you wanted.

  4. No need to bring your own nitrogen. There’s 3.5% of it in the Venusian atmosphere. If you remove the 96.5% CO2 (e.g. by the dry ice manufacturing process), you’re left with mostly the nitrogen. Scrub the sulfur dioxide and other minor contaminants, and you’re good to go.

    The CO2 can be split to extract oxygen, and the carbon can be used to make plastics. The problem isn’t nitrogen, but hydrogen (which you also need for water). But there is a small concentration of hydrogen compounds and there are sulfuric acid clouds, with hydrogens in the acid.

  5. Actually, the air you are breathing now is a “lift gas” on Venus. That’s what’s so fascinating about the idea of atmospheric exploration there. Lots of living space in the balloon. You’d have to bring your own liquid nitrogen to make it, though. But you’d have to bring your own everything except power and you wouldn’t need to do much with temperature and pressure regulation. Making power is as simple as dropping a boiler down on a hose, more or less. But yeah, not much to do there other than radar surveys and dropping little scanners down to the surface occasionally. I haven’t given the idea too much attention.

  6. New study from Harvard shows 2-3cm think silicone hydrogel layer will passively increase temperature on Mars surface by over 50 degrees Celsius due to strong green house effect bringing it above zero while blocking harmful UV light which should allow liquid water on the surface down to 2 meters deep into the soil and allow photosynthesis, plant growth.  So easy way to para-terraform Mars is already available. If you add an inch of two of leaded glass or acrylic to block the radiation it would be safe enough for human life.  Imagine a pressurized building the size of Gigafactory on Mars with a clear roof made with this material.. It would be like a town with earth environment on Mars.  The best part this silicone hydrogel can be fabricated on Mars from local materials.  You need silicone, CO2 and few other chemicals and some specialized equipment.

  7. Can’t make omelets without breaking a few eggs. When you are building rockets expect a some big explosions.

  8. Total amateur speculation here, but how about establishing a base at 55 km altitude (1 atm & room temperature), producing cross-linked polyethylene for the outer skin to stand up to the sulfuric acid, and extracting the N2 from the air (2%) for bouyancy?

  9. Blimps in Venus atmosphere might be more interesting if someone would map out the industrial processing paths necessary to convert atmosphere into blimp material and a safe inflation gas.

    If one can’t manufacture new habitats with relatively modest effort and minimal imported materials, Venus will be limited to ‘research bases’ rather than colonies. Well, unless someone discovers some really valuable resource that can be pulled from the atmosphere for export.

  10. There’s speculation the water spray may have shifted a gaseous methane cloud to an ignition source. The gaseous cloud may have been blowdown gases after shutdown.

  11. Has to be significant that the fireball happens immediately after the water spray touched the flame. Maybe cooling caused a leak to open wider? Or maybe frozen methane suddenly thawed?

  12. They probably could. Don’t know why you would want to. Living on the surface certainly would be very dangerous. Pretty poor choice in celestial bodies…unless you are just looking for a challenge. On the surface at least. Blimps high in the atmosphere are mildly interesting.

    The main issue with landing would be the pressure on the fuel tanks. It is equivalent to the pressure 3,000 feet under water on Earth. They could have landing tanks inside the regular tanks…where you can allow the pressure to equalize in the larger tanks while the smaller landing tanks are made sturdy enough to withstand the pressure. That should require much less material than trying to keep the big tanks intact under that pressure.

    It also would not take any additional space.

  13. Good construction. I bet SpaceX can probably design a space ship that can land on Venus.

  14. ‘This was done on purpose, to try and get rid of the wrinkles in the stainless skin’ .. JK

  15. Not surprised about the fuselage surviving intact, given its construction. But I’d be worried about the engine instrumentation.

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