I was thrilled to watch the 3rd test flight of SpaceX Starship today.

One thing I noticed watching the video was that debris came off the ship. This was more noticeable during its coasting phase. Some of the chunks looked fairly large.

In this video, you can see a few nice examples between about the 9:47 and 10:00 mark.

Is part of the rocket ablating off? Is some of the gas freezing? What is that stuff?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The one that concerned me was the stuff coming off during atmospheric interface that definitely didn't look like ice. Like in youtu.be/EfnkZFtHPmM?t=13096 there's some ice-looking material, but then a few seconds later, some really big pieces of black material that seem to just be peeling off the ship. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @DarthPseudonym Still looks like ice to me. The ship rotates so the pieces in view are in the shadow of the ship. Some of the big ones fall far enough that they leave the shadow and suddenly turn white. $\endgroup$
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Mar 15 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ I guess that's fair enough, but even if it's ice, it seems weird for ice to have survived the whole trip up and only come loose during reentry. Some of those pieces are pretty large. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


It's likely ice. It's light (color-wise) and wafer-y. It keeps shedding for a bit after staging.

Remember that SpaceX pioneered the "load and go" system

SpaceX uses load-and-go for its satellite and cargo Dragon missions currently, starting the fueling process just 35 minutes before liftoff. The company has adopted that approach because it uses “supercooled” propellants that are denser, improving the vehicle’s performance.

Starship itself has been holding all that cold LOX and methane during the trip up. The skin of the rocket isn't super thick, so it condenses and can freeze water on the skin. Starship has a stacked booster, so ice buildup is not as large a concern in striking anything.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.