Why Did The Second SpaceX Starship Fail?

Dave Rauschenfels
3 min readDec 2, 2023
Starship Flight 2 Credit SpaceX

It all began so beautifully on November 11th, with the opening of the valves on the booster, and the unleashing of a torrential downpour of liquid methane and oxygen. Deep within the intricate chambers of the Starship’s 33 Raptor engines, the propellants met and ignited in an elemental fury, thrusting the rocket majestically upward.

Two minutes and thirty-nine seconds later, the booster engines cutoff (MECO) and the six Raptor engines of the Starship lit for the first successful hot staging of the Starship. Then as the Starship soared free at two minutes and fifty-three seconds, the booster pitched over for its boostback burn, aspiring to execute a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

But then tragedy struck the booster stage at two minutes and fifty-three seconds when only nine of the intended ten Raptor engines reignited, with the rest quickly succumbing to a cascading failure. The crescendo hit its zenith at three minutes and twenty-one seconds when an explosive finale fractured the booster stage from its center, an event euphemistically dubbed Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly in the lexicon of SpaceX.

Starship Booster explosion-Credit SpaceX

This dramatic turn of events unfurled a perplexing chapter in the ongoing Starship saga. Did the range safety system, ironically, trigger the premature demise of the ship, firing when the booster was securely ensconced within its assigned trajectory? The official story is that the booster didn’t self-destruct, so that leaves a catastrophic failure within the booster’s engines, plumbing, or tankage.

But what forces could violently shatter an entire booster?

What happens when you abruptly stop the flow of tons of propellant to engines, on account of the engines failing to relight, and potentially the turbopumps stalling?

You get a shock wave or hydraulic shock, and this could be explosive. You might have experienced this water hammering in your home with a pinging, like when you turn off your shower. Try multiplying this across tons of propellant, and you have an explosive. Am I being unreasonable?

During the fourth flight of the N-1 moon rocket 51 years ago, an abrupt shutting down of the six engines on the center booster caused a shock wave and the breakup of the booster.

In the midst of this drama, the second stage of the Starship continued its ascent into the great abyss, gracefully detaching from the besieged booster. It nearly reached its intended orbit at 150 miles, the Starship’s voyage took an ominous turn at seven minutes into flight. A leak materialized, marked by a visible geyser of gas escaping into the void. The sensors lamented a severe depletion of liquid oxygen, and communications with the Starship ceased a minute later. The ship self-destructed about a thousand miles downrange with a radar capturing its breakup far above Puerto Rico, concluding the flight.

Starship oxygen leak-Credit SpaceX

What could spark an oxygen leak?

No clue, but I suspect it could be the Raptor engines. While I pray that I’m wrong, it’s already been established that the engines are not completely reliable. Only three months before the second flight, ArsTechnica reported that the Raptor engines cut out early during a static test.

But anyway, the Starship is still a work in progress. When do you predict that the Starship will achieve orbit?



Dave Rauschenfels

Field Service Engineer with a passion for technology and entertaining readers.