Landing evades SpaceX Starship during test flight in Texas

SN9 Starship prototype had smooth launch but landing ended in explosion

Following a mostly successful test flight of SpaceX’s Starship over Texas Tuesday the spaceship prototype came back down for a crash landing, similar to another test the company completed last month.

The company was planning to test another prototype of the Starship, known as Serial No. 9, or SN9 last week but the Federal Aviation Administration had not yet given SpaceX launch approval needed for flight. On Tuesday, they got the go-ahead from the FAA and SN9 took off a few minutes after 3:20 p.m. ET

SN9 launched to 10 kilometers from the company’s site in Boca Chica, Texas, a small beachside town along the Gulf of Mexico just north of the Rio Grande River.

The shiny spaceship powered by three Raptor engines had a smooth flight up to 10 kilometers then each engine began to shut down, allowing SN9 to perform a belly flop maneuver and head back down for landing.

“SN9′s Raptor engines will then reignite as the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately before touching down on the landing pad adjacent to the launch mount,” according to SpaceX.

SN9 exploded upon impact leaving a dust cloud in its wake.

[Re-watch the SN9 test flight at the top of this story.]

“We just gotta work on that landing a little bit,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said after the explosion, reminding views that this was a test.

The test looked similar to the previous flight with another prototype SN8 but this time SpaceX hoped to stick the landing.

SpaceX plans to continue ramping up testing of its interplanetary spaceship into the new year.

Another Starship, SN10, is already being prepared for a test flight and was standing tall next to the debris from SN9.

Previously, SpaceX performed a Starship flight or hop test on Dec. 9 with a prototype called SN8. 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 but about seven minutes after liftoff, Starship came back down to land but exploded upon impact.

Re-watch the December test flight below.

Musk and SpaceX still declared the December flight a success. Musk celebrated, tweeting “Mars, here we come!!”

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

Eventually, SpaceX plans to launch the reusable spaceship from Kennedy Space Center.

About the Author:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News.