Space

SpaceX's Starship hits high altitude, explodes in fireball on return

SpaceX's Starship hits high al...
SpaceX's Starship prototype makes an explosive landing attempt
SpaceX's Starship prototype makes a landing attempt
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SpaceX's Starship prototype makes an explosive landing attempt
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SpaceX's Starship prototype makes a landing attempt
SpaceX's Starship performs a belly flop maneuver
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SpaceX's Starship performs a belly flop maneuver
SpaceX's Starship has reached magnificent new heights
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SpaceX's Starship has reached magnificent new heights
SpaceX's Starship explodes on impact, though the test flight has been deemed a success
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SpaceX's Starship explodes on impact, though the test flight has been deemed a success
The next-generation Starship is the vehicle SpaceX hopes to use to transport cargo and people to orbit, the Moon and eventually Mars
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The next-generation Starship is the vehicle SpaceX hopes to use to transport cargo and people to orbit, the Moon and eventually Mars
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SpaceX's Starship has reached magnificent new heights, today climbing to high altitude before exploding in a spectacular fireball during a landing attempt. The first sub-orbital flight for the SN8 prototype was nonetheless largely a successful one, with the massive vehicle designed for deep space travel achieving a few key objectives before its fiery demise.

The next-generation Starship is the vehicle SpaceX hopes to use to transport cargo and people to orbit, the Moon and eventually Mars. And the company's engineers have been rather proactive in iterating the design, quickly moving through the building and testing of prototypes, starting with the unveiling of the first version in January last year, to the 500-ft (150-m) hop test of SN5 a few months ago, to today's flight of SN8.

The next-generation Starship is the vehicle SpaceX hopes to use to transport cargo and people to orbit, the Moon and eventually Mars
The next-generation Starship is the vehicle SpaceX hopes to use to transport cargo and people to orbit, the Moon and eventually Mars

Inside the unfinished exterior are three of SpaceX's raptor engines, which today successfully blasted the SN8 prototype away from the company's Boca Chica test facility, and onwards to its highest altitude yet. The aim was to reach 40,000 ft (12,000 m), though it is not yet clear precisely the altitude SN8 was able to reach.

From there, the Starship performed a "landing flip maneuver", where it flipped 90 degrees and used its flaps to guide its path as it fell freely back to the Earth, much like a skydiver. This is the first time this maneuver has been attempted by a vehicle of this size, with SN8 then using its flaps to reorient itself to an upright position ahead of a landing attempt.

SpaceX's Starship performs a belly flop maneuver
SpaceX's Starship performs a belly flop maneuver

This part of the flight test didn't quite go to plan, and certainly not as smoothly as SpaceX's many successful landings of its Falcon 9 first stage, with the SN8 hitting the ground at seemingly high speed and resulting in a massive, fiery explosion.

CEO Elon Musk expanded on this via Twitter, describing the ascent as successful and saying the spacecraft demonstrated "precise flap control" during the landing attempt. Despite the explosive landing, the Starship program will continue at speed, with SpaceX claiming that SN9 is almost ready to be moved to the pad for its turn for take off.

You can see the SN8 test flight in the video below.

Starship | SN8 | High-Altitude Flight Test

Source: SpaceX

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16 comments
16 comments
fen
Nice being a private company. If Nasa tried this and blew the rocket up the whole thing would have to be grounded for months, private companies can high five each other and just continue on. I can see why they are outsourcing stuff to private companies now.
Daishi
@fen I don't think you realize that NASA loses every booster rocket. SpaceX attempts to recover them by landing them again vertically and they aren't always successful but by being successful most of the time and recovering booster rockets for re-use they have lower costs of operation than NASA that simply loses all of them and has to build a new one again for every launch. I hope that helps clear things up.
zr2s10
Impressive. That was pretty dang close, just a touch fast, obviously
GeoffreyR.Gunning
It looks like it was landing on only one rocket chamber working. Admittedly the craft is much lighter at this stage, but is one chamber enough?
Ianspeed
All I can say is YES!!!! Well done The Pengwing, that data is going to help SpaceX so much. Elon has the right attitude and people working for him, no red tape, no micro management. Hands on all the way. Well worth watching Scott Manley's summarisation of the event. For me it was 100% success all the way and a fantastic sight.
Voice of Reason
@Daishi you missed @fen's point. Anything done by NASA that does not go perfectly well is cause for months or years of delays and political grandstanding whereas private companies can just move on quickly.
Worzel
Seems like doctors cliché comment, ''The operation was a success, but the patient died!''
Kpar
I remember the first landing attempt of a Falcon 9 booster. The grid fins failed due to insufficient hydraulic fluid. Fixed that, and the next landing (like most, since) was successful.

This one was just a blip. I noticed that one engine quit firing on the way up (intentional/unintentional?) and one engine failed to ignite on the way down- probably leading to the excessively rapid descent.

Exciting stuff! I look forward to SN9 and the Heavy booster.
Username
Did the first hour and 47 minutes of that video really needed to be posted?
buzzclick
The bullet shape of this SN-8 made me think of those images of that early 20th c. movie Voyage Dans La Lune where the rocket ship gets the man on the moon right in the eye.

The ground crew immediately called it a success. Did you think they would bury their heads in their hands and say Oh no, what a disaster!