BOCA CHICA, Tx. – As the saying goes, “the third time is the charm,” and that much was true for SpaceX as the company sent another interplanetary spaceship prototype flying high above the Texas coast Wednesday but this time it survived the landing attempt only to explode minutes after a successful landing.
Elon Musk’s company is churning out Starship test vehicles in Boca Chica, Texas at the company’s facility and most recently began testing the launch and landing capabilities in daring flights.
After two previous high-altitude flights of Starship prototypes ended in fiery explosions, it was Serial No. 10, or SN10, up on the chopping block.
SN10 took off at about 6:14 p.m. ET powered by three Raptor engines, reaching about 6 miles up. Next, each engine shut down one by one as the vehicle slowly began to orient itself horizontally for descent. Then Starship began its descent in a belly flop using its four wings, or flips, to control itself. The drop looks straight out of science-fiction even after the third time seeing it.
The Raptor engines then fired back up as SN10 flips back to vertical position and touched down on the landing pad. This is the part SpaceX had not been able to achieve yet. The last two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, ended in fireballs but Wednesday’s attempt left the tall gleaming Starship standing as the dust cleared around it.
[Re-watch the liftoff and landing below, watch the explosion at the top of this story]
However, LabPadre and other local media outlets in Boca Chica continued streaming showing SN10 explode moments later.
Musk tweeted in celebration of the landing but added, “RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”
“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” the CEO wrote.
But that’s not to say the tests were failures but small steps toward Musk’s vision to create a reusable spaceship capable of moon and Mars missions.
These high-altitude flights and now landings are part of the plan to test SpaceX’s interplanetary transportation system.
“A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth,” SpaceX said in an update. “This capability will enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”
The first attempt for the SN10 test in the day happened just after 3 p.m. but was aborted right before liftoff.
Musk said the abort was triggered by a “slightly conservative high thrust limit.” Teams will increase the thrust limit for another flight attempt, he said.
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