Space

SpaceX Starship makes miraculous first landing ... then explodes

SpaceX Starship makes miraculo...
The 10th prototype of SpaceX's Starship in flight
The 10th prototype of SpaceX's Starship in flight
View 3 Images
The 10th prototype of SpaceX's Starship in flight
1/3
The 10th prototype of SpaceX's Starship in flight
SN10 performs a belly flop maneuver
2/3
SN10 performs a belly flop maneuver
SN10 on the pad
3/3
SN10 on the pad
View gallery - 3 images

SpaceX has made a miraculous first landing of its Starship spacecraft, a momentous step forward in the company's ambitions to reach the Moon and Mars. The landmark test flight follows less successful attempts in which earlier Starship prototypes exploded on touchdown, demonstrating a groundbreaking landing technique unique for a vehicle of its size.

SpaceX's Starship program has continued at a rapid rate, with the company progressing from the first prototype reveal in January 2019 to the sub-orbital test flights of prototypes eight and nine in December and February just gone. In both of those flights, Starship reached its target altitude of around 10 km (33,000 ft) but exploded in a fireball as it came down to land.

The landing sequence for Starship is different to the one used for SpaceX's smaller Falcon 9 rocket, which has been routinely landing on Earth and out at sea for several years now. The vehicle features three Raptor engines which shut down at altitude and transition the spacecraft to a horizontal "belly flop" orientation.

SN10 performs a belly flop maneuver
SN10 performs a belly flop maneuver

Here, Starship uses its four flaps to slow its descent and steer its way back to Earth rather than its engines, much like a skydiver uses their arms and legs. Before the flight of Starship SN8 in December, this maneuver had never been performed using a vehicle of this size.

When Starship approaches the pad, it uses two engines to return to an upright position and then a single engine for a landing burn, bringing it to a gentle touchdown. It was at this point that things fell apart for SN8 and SN9, both of which hit the landing pad at high velocity and promptly exploded in huge fireballs.

SN10 on the pad
SN10 on the pad

But "third time's a charm," as noted by the commentary team on the webcast for today's flight of SN10, with the spacecraft successfully touching and remaining upright thereafter. It appears the damage incurred during the landing was too much to bear for the spacecraft, however, causing it to explode on the pad some minutes after coming down to rest. But the successful soft landing, albeit short-lived, is still a massive moment for SpaceX and its plans for a fully reusable, interplanetary transport system.

Check out a replay of the test flight below.

Starship | SN10 | High-Altitude Flight Test

Source: SpaceX

View gallery - 3 images
19 comments
Derek Howe
Awesome Flight! Nice job SpaceX!
Bricorn
If it wasn't for NASA's stranglehold on everything space-related, something like this could have been flying decades ago. Who knows where we'd be by now?

Strange that in the world's bastion of free enterprise, a government agency held back any chance of private flight.

Go Elon! Elon, Elon, yeah!
GeoffreyR.Gunning
Anyone know what the brown smoke starting at 6.21 is?
Worzel
That seems rather like, ''The operation was a success, but, the patient died.'' Was there any indication as to the reason for the explosion?
It seems somewhat bizarre, that having landed successfully, that it should then explode.
paul314
In the old days of aviation, all of these flights would have had test pilots aboard. Give thanks for Moore's law, which has made near-infinite computing power not just available but disposable.
Expanded Viewpoint
So where's the explosion at the end?!?! I saw this same footage somewhere else yesterday, and all they showed towards the end was the monitor spraying water towards the rocket, and then they cut away! Does Elon not want us to see that part? Is it too embarrassing for his company to show what happened? NASA, on the other hand, made no bones about showing their failures as well as their successes!!
I'm into amateur rocketry, designing and building both solid fuel and liquid fuel engines over the years.
Junkyjim1
Amazing!! Really inspiring...and to boot, 12:25 on looks like it was filmed on Tatooine!!!
DavidB
@Worzel, as it says in the article, “It appears the damage incurred during the landing was too much [to] bear for the spacecraft, [though], causing it to explode on the pad some minutes after coming down to rest.”

Picture a car smashing into some object, coming to a stop, and then (after a couple of minutes) bursting into flame.
BlueOak
What other space company - or space agency - has been able to carry off three full flight tests of this scale, within three months? Truly incredible.

And the explosion happened long after landing. That was a phenomenally successful test and accomplishment.

Elon Musk, never one to take himself too seriously, tweeted:

“RIP SN10, honorable discharge”
jerryd
Nice except they leak way too much fuel and O2 and note how the fire kept going then a few minutes later the whole thing blew up.