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SpaceX and the FAA have drawn a number of conclusions from the first two Starship launches, and would seem to be in the midst of analyzing the anomalous events of the third. Is that analysis based solely on telemetry/video evidence, or do they actually try to recover and inspect components "of interest" for a proper understanding of what happened? Obviously, each flight would have produced a rather large debris field over what could be very deep water, making recovery of anything an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, but has it been justified in the context of a test program?

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  • $\begingroup$ I asked a related question: space.stackexchange.com/questions/65680/…. There's no answer there yet but the comments might be informative. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Mar 24 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @phil1008 I see your focus on a "black box" - some sort of data recorder. I was thinking more broadly about any sort of component which, under suitable analysis, might reveal evidence of what failed, when, and how - witness marks or scratches, fracture surfaces, scorch marks, etc. - evidence of events/conditions not monitored by a sensor (if indeed possible to measure). The same sort of thing air crash investigators look at - bits and pieces which have acquired damage unique to the in-flight failure as distinct from anything subsequent. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Mar 24 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I realize that. I figure that if they were planning to search for wreckage, then the first thing they would want to recover is a data recorder - if they included one. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Mar 25 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ In the SpaceX stream of the 3rd starship launch, Dan Huot specifically mentioned that they weren't intending to recover any of the debris even if the test went completely as planned. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 20:10

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SpaceX has submitted two Programmatic Environmental Assessments (PEA) for its Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program.

They make it clear they would prefer not to recover remains of their launch vehicles, "If [launch failure] occurs, SpaceX would not recover Super Heavy or Starship. SpaceX expects Super Heavy and Starship would breakup on impact. SpaceX expects most of the launch vehicle would sink because it is made of steel. Lighter items (e.g., items not made of steel, such composite overwrapped pressure vessels) may float but are expected to eventually become waterlogged and sink. If there are reports of large debris, SpaceX would coordinate with a party specialized in marine debris to survey the situation and sink or recover as necessary any large floating debris."

https://www.faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/2022-06/PEA_for_SpaceX_Starship_Super_Heavy_at_Boca_Chica_FINAL.pdf

In the second PEA they state, "there will be no Starship recovery or debris salvage operations in the Indian Ocean"

https://www.faa.gov/media/76836

Technically, "any spacecraft components found anywhere on Earth (or in space) remain the property of the launch operator until such time that the entity explicitly relinquishes them."

http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-042123a-spacex-starship-test-flight-debris.html

By implication, SpaceX is responsible for the safe disposal of components of their spacecraft and they have a hotline for reporting:

https://www.cameroncountytx.gov/spacex-debris-hotline/

Someone tried reporting a finding to SpaceX who, "thanked me for the information and said I could ship the pieces to them or keep them." (You can send them back at your own expense!) Not surprisingly many parts, especially tiles, which are lighter than water, are ending up on EBay.

https://qz.com/spacex-starship-debris-ebay-elon-musk-1851367838

SpaceX uses telemetry to measure as many aspects of the Starship/Super Heavy launches as possible. Much more is collected than the flight details.

Five frequencies were requested in applications to the FCC, with bit rates ranging from 600 kbps (one) to 4.167 Mbps (four).

https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=49032.0

I've not been able to determine what sensors are fitted and data collected, but the bandwidth suggests it is copious. The lack of interest in recovering rocket remains suggests there is no on-board logger and they expect to learn little from the remains that they cannot get from telemetry.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe the second PEA quote about no salvage operations in the Indian Ocean would answer this linked related question definitively and authoritatively as well $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 1 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ As further anecdotal information, on the Ellie in Space YouTube channel (um, according to a friend) she had an episode about the tiles, there was one person who said SpaceX contacted them after they found an IFT1 tile but just wanted info on where the tile was found but did not want the tile. Another person said they found several IFT2 tiles on the beach on South Padre Island and wrote to SpaceX with the location details but never heard back. They said they knew other people who said SpaceX just wanted data about the tiles they found but didn't want the tiles back. $\endgroup$ Apr 1 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ So SpaceX deems physical debris inspection to be of no value toward a root-cause investigation of anomalous behavior of their vehicles? $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Apr 5 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Anthony X. I can't find any evidence to the contrary and their PEA submissions - their official statements of how they'll treat the debris - indicate they don't intend recovering the debris, except as required under their responsibility to clean up their rubbish. $\endgroup$
    – Galerita
    Apr 6 at 2:04

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