Another SpaceX spaceship prototype explodes, joining Starship graveyard in Texas after ‘exciting’ test

Starship SN11 launched Tuesday morning from Texas but did not survive landing

Fog hides SpaceX's Starship SN 11 during a test launch in Boca Chica, Texas, on March 30, 2021.
Fog hides SpaceX's Starship SN 11 during a test launch in Boca Chica, Texas, on March 30, 2021. (SpaceX/YouTube)

SpaceX launched another Starship spaceship prototype Tuesday morning into a foggy, dark Texas sky but like three other test vehicles, it did not survive the landing.

The launch for SpaceX’s future Mars spaceship came a day after the test flight was postponed.

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SpaceX has plenty of goals when taking its future spaceship on 6-mile-high test flights from Texas but as the company prepares to try again with a new Starship prototype, the goal of keeping the shiny prototype in one piece loomed large.

Just after 9 a.m. EDT, SpaceX conducted its fourth high-altitude test flight from Boca Chica, Texas, using a new Starship spaceship test vehicle. Serial No. 11, or SN11, became the latest prototype subject to the same test flight that has destroyed three previous vehicles.

During the test flight, the shiny bullet-shaped ship soared more than 6 miles into the sky after lifting off from the Texas coast, then it descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico before flipping upright just in time to land. It’s the final part that previous Starship prototypes have not survived, at least for very long.

The livestream of the test flight from SpaceX came from views inside the spaceship or near one of the flaps used to control the vehicle’s descent.

However, about six minutes into the test, the video went black before coming back to show SN11′s Raptor engines and then it froze. A short while later, SpaceX engineer and webcast host John Insprucker confirmed SN11 wouldn’t be landing today.

“Starship is not coming back, don’t wait for the landing, we do appear to have lost all the data from the vehicle and the team of course is away from the landing pad,” said Insprucker, ending the webcast by saying, “As always, an exciting time with Starship.”

The fog shielded the explosion, but livestreams from YouTuber’s LabPadre and the Everyday Astronaut showed a bright flash.

Musk tweeted Friday that SpaceX is “doing our best to land & fully recover.”

To “fully recover” would mean SN11 survives the landing and doesn’t explode post-landing, which happened after the most recent tests.

Musk and his teams are building more test vehicles in Texas and will no doubt try again soon.

“A high production rate solves many ills,” he said following Tuesday’s explosion, adding “As least the crater is in the right place!”

The CEO said teams will have to collect and “examine the bits” later on Tuesday to determine the exact problem but he already had an idea.

“Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed,” Musk said referring to the rocketship’s three engineers. “Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start.”

Here’s a quick recap of the recent testing of Starship in Texas:

  • Prior to the high-altitude test flights, SpaceX completed a series of “hops” with a shorter prototype of the spaceship, also in Texas.
  • In December, SpaceX conducted its first high-altitude test flight of the Starship prototype called Serial No. 8, or SN8. While the takeoff and aerial descent went well SN8 exploded upon landing attempt. Still, it was the first time the public was able to see what SpaceX is attempting to accomplish with its futuristic spaceship designed to travel to the moon and Mars. The first attempt was considered a success for SpaceX with what it did achieve.
  • A second similar test in February with a new prototype SN9 also ended in a fireball during the landing attempt.
  • SpaceX almost nailed it during the most recent test flight with SN10. The Starship prototype launched and successfully landed but then exploded a few minutes later.

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