Chinese rocket scientists conducted frame-by-frame analysis of Starship launch

China is developing the fully reusable Long March 9 rocket, which will have a similar design to Starship.
Chris Young
Starship lift-off.
Starship lift-off.

SpaceX / Twitter 

A team of rocket scientists in China reportedly provided an accurate diagnosis of the problem that caused Starship to spiral out of control before Elon Musk's SpaceX released its own official statement on the massive Mars rocket, a report from the South China Morning Post reveals.

The fully-integrated Starship launch system spun out of control shortly after it first took to the skies, on April 20, in what was an otherwise successful first flight test.

A frame-by-frame analysis of the Starship launch

Since Starship's first flight test, Elon Musk has confirmed that Starship's thrust vector control was part of the problem that led to the massive rocket spiraling.

In a Twitter Spaces discussion on April 29, Musk said Starship lost thrust vector control 85 seconds after launch. "If we had maintained thrust vector control and throttled up, which we should have … then we would have made it to staging," he added.

Before that Twitter Spaces discussion, Chinese SpaceX rival, the Beijing Aerospace System Engineering Institute, claimed that Starship could have reached orbit if its smart thrust vector control system had worked as planned — even with the multiple engine failures that occurred. The system is designed to react to any issues that might occur during launch in real time, including engine failures.

The Beijing Institute released an analysis of the Starship launch via the newspaper China Space News on April 27 on its WeChat social media account. Their analysis was made via frame-by-frame analysis of the video of the Starship launch. In the report, they stated that, though some of the engines lost thrust during launch, the throttling process continued as programmed. Instead, it should have been altered by the smart thrust vector control system to correct Starship's trajectory.

According to the Chinese researchers' calculations, the swiveling engines that were still firing only needed to swivel one degree to compensate for the loss of eight engines. "This is because the swiveling engines have a much greater moment arm than the fixed engines that produce disturbance forces," they explained in their report.

China's answer to Starship?

It's one thing to analyze a video of the world's largest and most powerful rocket from afar and state what should have been done differently. It's another altogether to pour over telemetry data and prepare for the next launch, which is exactly what Musk and SpaceX are doing — though they will also have to wait on the Federal Aviation Authority before launching Starship again.

The Beijing Institute designs China's Long March rockets. While it has successfully helped to launch many missions, including the recent Tiangong space station module launches, it has also faced criticism for its Long March 5B rocket. That particular model releases a 21-ton rocket part into orbit, which performs an uncontrolled reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Last year, Spain was forced to close part of its airspace due to fears that a rocket part could down an aircraft.