Emergency Flight Termination System for SN10 is in place; Starship test flight imminent
On Feb. 28, workers installed the flight termination system, or FTS, on Starship SN10 in what has proven to be the key event in the testing campaign that separates the preflight testing phase from the flight attempt phase.
The FTS consists of two white boxes that house small explosive devices outside the propellant tanks, which upon command would detonate and trigger the breakup of the vehicle in the event of any deviations from the planned flight path. The point of installation in the timeline of the previous test campaigns of Starships SN8 and SN9 have both shown a consistent pattern of when the FTS gets installed, relative to the test flight occuring.
For cryogenic proof tests and static fires, the square brackets where the bombs go can be seen to be empty. When those tests are completed, the white boxes appear in those spaces. Careful observers of Starship testing now rightfully take their installation as a clear indication that a flight is imminent, such as is the case with SN10 now.
The FTS is meant to reduce but will not completely eliminate the risk of any wayward debris in the event of a deviation. Obviously the small explosive devices will not completely vaporize the vehicle, and the winds of the launch day will determine which way debris falls.
It is interesting to note that small secondary explosions have been heard after the hard landings of SN8 and SN9; it is thought that these are the FTS devices detonating in the heat of the inferno.
Hopefully SN10 will stick the landing without need for the use of this safety system, but it is a critical component which helps to safeguard the residents of the area against a potentially out of control experimental rocket. As of right now, SpaceX is targeting sometime today, March 3, for their high-altitude flight test for the vehicle.
Nicholas D'Alessandro was born and raised in Southwest Florida. The seeds of his interest in Space Exploration were planted when the Shuttle's sonic boom upon re-entry would reverberate through his childhood home even across the state; the knowledge that a real life spacecraft was passing overhead and could have that effect was fascinating to him. A middle school field trip to the Kennedy Space Center cemented that fascination, and with an additional interest in the bleeding edge of automotive technology and Teslas, it was the story of Elon Musk's path to Cape Canaveral with SpaceX that finally led Nicholas to move to the Space Coast and, after joining Spaceflight Insider in 2020, begin documenting the dawning era of commercial spaceflight.