‘Mars, here we come!’ SpaceX wows with Starship’s most daring (and explosive) test flight yet

SpaceX successfully completed at least two objectives but SN8 did not survive landing

The internet collectively picked its jaw up off the floor Wednesday as SpaceX launched a prototype of its Starship spaceship from Texas, performing an aerial wonder and then come back down for a fiery landing.

After the first attempt Tuesday was scrubbed at the last second, SpaceX tried again Wednesday to test its latest Starship prototype known as SN8 from the company’s Boca, Chica, Texas launch site.

The wait was worth it. More than 500,000 people tuned in on SpaceX’s live stream to view the suborbital flight.

Around 5:40 p.m. ET the shiny towering Starship ascended from the pad, slowly using its three Raptor engines. The goal was to reach around 50,000 feet, the highest yet for any Starship test flight.

The next goal was to perform an aerial maneuver flipping the spaceship in position to come back down for landing. Those first two steps went well. Watching Starship fly on three, then two then one Raptor engine as it made the flip in the aerial was something straight out of science fiction.

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet.

About 7 minutes after liftoff, Starship came back down to land but exploded upon impact.

Still two out of three isn’t bad for a company trying to build an interplanetary spaceship from scratch. SN8 was left smoldering on the ground. Another prototype that performed the first “hop” as a Starship stood standing near SN8′s ashes.

SpaceX's Starship SN8 explodes while landing after a high-altitude test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, on Dec. 9, 2020. (KPRC)

Next, SpaceX will do it all again with another prototype, SN9.

Roads in the small beachside town of Boca Chica were closed ahead of such a test for residents’ safety and no one was near the fiery landing.

The private space company hopes Starship can take people to distant destinations, such as the moon and Mars.

After the test, Musk celebrated, tweeting “Mars, here we come!!”

Ahead of the test, Musk said there is “probably 1/3 chance of completing all mission objectives.”

On Wednesday, Musk called SN8 a success, saying “even reaching apogee would’ve been great, so controlling all the way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic!!” Musk was referring to the large ashen hole left by the explosion, according to the billionaire, even that was in the right spot.

Musk said Starship failed to stick the upright landing because the “fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn.” Basically, the spaceship came in too fast.

SpaceX issued a statement following the event:

“Starship serial number 8 (SN8) lifted off from our Cameron County launch pad and successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and performed its landing flip maneuver with precise flap control to reach its landing point. Low pressure in the fuel header tank during the landing burn led to high touchdown velocity resulting in a hard (and exciting!) landing.”

The company thanked the community in Cameron County, Texas for their support and said it’s already preparing Serial number 9 Starship for testing.

This year, SpaceX completed two low-altitude flight tests with two other Starship prototypes at its site in Boca Chica, Texas.

The company put out a disclaimer ahead of the next flight, writing “success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn as a whole, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship.”

Eventually, SpaceX plans to launch Starship from Kennedy Space Center. A similar prototype was being built in Cocoa until SpaceX halted production at that site.

Re-watch the SpaceX test flight below:


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