SpaceX has been struggling to coordinate the debris cleanup at state parks near the orbital flight test they are scheduled to conduct tomorrow. Officials responsible for overseeing debris cleanup have raised concerns about the organization’s lack of coordination and its potential inability to handle the task. If tomorrow’s flight test goes poorly, SpaceX may be left with another substantial burden.
In terms of the success of the upcoming SpaceX test, it seems as though Elon Musk may have downgraded its chances. The company is attempting to use an experimental rocket engine to send a Dragon spacecraft into orbit, but if it does not work properly then the entire test could be for nothing. So even if the rocket launches and sends the Dragon up into space, there is still a good chance that it will end up failing.
From the text, it seems that SpaceX’s recent testing anomalies could have potentially harmful effects on the environment. If debris from SpaceX’s tests falls onto public lands, environmental managers will have to monitor and clean up any messes made. This could be a daunting task, especially given that this is only one of several activities SpaceX regularly engages in.
Several test explosions at Starship’s testing and launch facility in southeastern Texas have left debris fields that have impacted adjacent Brazos Island State Park and Boca Chica State Park. The most recent test in March 2021 generated a debris field impacting across 700 acres of surrounding parkland, raising safety concerns for park visitors.
The Object that caused the explosion was discovered orbiting a distant star. The energy of the explosion created a massive debris field, which is still expanding thousands of light years from its original location.
The SpaceX team was excited to finally remove the last piece of debris from the devastating SN11 disaster, but they were met with some awkward hiccups. The company had to submit a retrieval plan, involving the use of a heavy-duty Case 210 excavator, to the FWS and TPWD before removing it from the site.
NASA was initially hesitant to approve SpaceX’s proposed launch of a Falcon Heavy payload because it feared the large rocket could cause damage to the area. However, after meeting with SpaceX officials and investigating the issue, NASA approved the launch.
The debris retrieval due to the 2013 supernova event, known as SN11, was a substantial burden upon FWS staff time. The refuge manager Sonny Perez explained in an email to FAA officials that coordinating the debris retrieval was a significant task.
In late April 2021, after SpaceX had closed the road leading to the debris field caused by Starship Patel, cleanup efforts were slowed down considerably. Perez told Alaniz that these closures delayed or prevented response teams from accessing the site to monitor clean-up efforts.
Charles Perez, the assistant refuge manager overseeing SN11 recovery efforts, was not pleased when a short-notice closure forced him to leave early. The wildlife biologists and refuge manager were denied access altogether to the site. Perez stated that this prevented them from collecting debris and assessing the damage caused by the fire.
Given that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and engines are equipped with “grid fins” in order to stabilize the vehicle during ascent, this debris could potentially pose a hazard to aircraft flying in proximity to it. This potential issue has led to the recommendation for aircraft operators to maintain a safe distance from any debris created by SpaceX launches.
In late 2020, SpaceX ceased its longtime practice of recovering any and all debris created by their Starship tests – a change which TPWD had to quickly adapt to. The agency has worked closely with SpaceX to create a retrieval protocol that minimizes disturbance to the sensitive habitats in the area, though some debris will still be collected for investigation.
Despite assurances from SpaceX, many are hesitant to set their hopes too high for the upcoming Orbital Flight Test. After all, even a perfect launch could result in debris raining down on Earth, something that has become increasingly commonplace with these sorts of launches. Still, there is a chance that tomorrow’s test will go off without a hitch- and if it does, it would mark yet another major achievement for SpaceX in its quest to bring advanced spacecraft into orbit.