SpaceX Starship prototype rocket explodes after successful landing in high-altitude flight test
SpaceX’s Starship prototype exploded shortly after landing for the first time following a high-altitude flight test on Wednesday.
The cause of the explosion, or whether it was intentional, was not immediately clear. Elon Musk alternatively refers to explosions as “RUDs,” or Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.
The company test flew Starship rocket Serial Number 10, or SN10. SpaceX aimed to launch the prototype as high as 10 kilometers, or about 32,800 feet altitude. There were no passengers onboard the rocket, as it is a development vehicle and flies autonomously.
The SN10 flight was similar to the ones SpaceX conducted in December and February, when it test flew prototypes SN8 and SN9, respectively. Both prior rockets completed several development objectives – including testing aerodynamics, shutting down the engines in succession, and flipping to orient for landing –but both prototypes exploded on impact as they attempted to land, unable to slow down enough.
Like SN8 and SN9, the goal of the SN10 flight was not necessarily to reach the maximum altitude, but rather to test several key parts of the Starship system. SpaceX fired all three engines for liftoff and then shut them down one at a time in sequence as the rocket neared the top of the flight’s intended altitude.
SN10 then transferred propellant from the main tanks to the header tanks, before flipping itself for the “belly flop” reentry maneuver – which gives it a controlled descent through the air with the rocket’s four flaps. Then, in the final moments of descent, SpaceX flipped the rocket and returned it to a vertical orientation, firing the Raptor engines to slow itself down for the landing.
“Third time’s the charm, as the saying goes – we’ve had a successful soft touchdown on the landing pad,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s webcast