A SpaceX test flight exploded while attempting to land after a successful launch Wednesday, but the vehicle was unmanned and no one was harmed.
The test was a prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket, the pet project of founder Elon Musk, who believes it will one day transport humans to Mars. During the flight, the rocket reached an altitude of about 40,000 feet before it flipped over in air. The engines failed to re-ignite for landing and the rocket exploded once it hit the ground.
SpaceX said prior to the launch that the test was designed to measure “a number of objectives,” including how the SN8 craft’s three Raptor engines performed, how the craft handled propellant transitions in-flight, and the “aerodynamic entry capabilities of the vehicle (including its body flaps).” Another key part of the test was the landing, which, well, didn’t go as planned.
“SN8 will also attempt to perform a landing flip maneuver, which would be a first for a vehicle of this size,” SpaceX noted pre-launch.
The launch was originally scheduled for Dec. 8, but was rescheduled due to weather. On Monday, Musk said he didn’t expect a perfect run — “probably 1/3 chance of completing all mission objectives,” he predicted.
Some parts of the test went well — Musk said there was a “successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point” — before the craft blew up on the launchpad.
Musk congratulated the SpaceX team on Twitter after the launch, calling it a success despite the fact the crash landing into a fiery inferno. He was quick to note that even if a rocket crashes, the engineers can still extract valuable information from the remains, and hopefully figure out what went wrong to avoid duplicating the errors.
Musk tweeted, “Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!”
Whether or not any humans will be queued up by the hundreds to join the Starship crew on an intergalactic mission (either to the moon by 2023 or Mars by 2024) as Musk predicted remains to be seen. What’s clear for now is there’s a lot more testing to be done before anyone straps into the Starship.
Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2020