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Washington Post/ Elon Musk’s Starship launches successfully but lands hard, explodes in what SpaceX calls an ‘awesome test’
SpaceX launched a towering prototype of its Starship spaceship into the stratosphere on Tuesday, but the vehicle exploded upon landing in Boca Chica, Texas, after a nearly seven-minute flight.
Such a fiery outcome wasn't unexpected, though, and SpaceX hailed the audacious test as a success in its live broadcast on YouTube.
"AWESOME TEST. CONGRATS STARSHIP TEAM!" the company wrote in text while showing wreckage of the vehicle, called Starship serial No. 8, or SN8.
Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, previously estimated a 2-3 chance that the test flight would fail. Musk said last week that a "lot of things need to go right" for the prototype to land intact.
That was because the flight of SN8 was its most strenuous flight ever attempted. The vehicle also represents the most advanced Starship prototype the company has launched to date: It stood 16 stories tall, used three car-sized Raptor rocket engines, and came with canards and wing flaps to fly it through the atmosphere in free fall.
SpaceX launched its shiny, bullet-shaped, straight-out-of-science fiction Starship several miles into the air from a remote corner of Texas on Wednesday, but the 6 1/2-minute test flight ended in an explosive fireball at touchdown.
It was the highest and most elaborate flight yet for the rocketship that Elon Musk says could carry people to Mars in as little as six years.
This latest prototype — the first one equipped with a nose cone, body flaps and three engines — was shooting for an altitude of up to eight miles (12.5 kilometers). That’s almost 100 times higher than previous hops and skimming the stratosphere.
A prototype of the massive spacecraft Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building to take people to the moon and Mars exploded upon landing Wednesday after a seemingly successful launch and flight. Still, the company called it “an awesome test,” and Musk said the company “got all the data we needed.”
The Starship rocket has been Musk’s passion for years, a vehicle that has gone through multiple design changes as SpaceX has worked to develop a craft that could eventually fly people to deep space.
Before the test flight, SpaceX cautioned that there will probably be setbacks during the ongoing development of the vehicle. And before Wednesday’s flight, it said that “with a test such as this, success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn, which will inform the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship.”
Starship, made of stainless steel, with aerodynamic flaps to help control its trajectory, was supposed to fly to an altitude of nearly eight miles, then fall back through the atmosphere in a belly-flop position before reorienting itself, reigniting its engine and touching down softly.
An unmanned SpaceX craft exploded in a massive fireball during an attempted test flight Wednesday in Texas — but CEO Elon Musk said the mission was largely a success.
The Starship SN8 crashed back to earth around 5:30 p.m. after reaching an altitude of about 40,000 feet over Boca Chica, according to reports and stunning video of the crash.
Musk lauded the test run on Twitter.
“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high … but we got all the data we needed!” he wrote. “Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!
“Mars, here we come!!,” he added in a second tweet.
The rocket is part of the transportation system that SpaceX is developing with an eye toward eventually ferrying Earth-weary travelers to the moon and, one day, Mars.
The explosive ending, while visually stunning, was not entirely unexpected.
Musk last month pegged the odds of a flawless test launch at worse than fifty-fifty.
“Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance,” he wrote on Twitter when asked by a reporter how likely it was the craft would land intact.