SpaceX’s latest prototype spacecraft successfully landed for the first time Wednesday after conducting a high-altitude test flight over Texas, but exploded minutes later on its landing pad. The rocket, an early test version called SN10, demonstrated some complex dances in the air before achieving a soft touch, aiming to mark a key milestone in Elon Musk’s campaign to build a fully reusable rocket system.
After aborting an initial launch attempt earlier in the day, the prototype took off at 6:14 p.m. ET and soared 6 miles above the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Unlike the last two tests with SN8 and SN9, which launched successfully but exploded on landing attempts, SN10 hit a lopsided landing on a concrete slab not far from its launch pad, seeming to survive its daring maneuver. landing for a few moments before being consumed. in a ball of fire.
The primary goal of the launch test was to demonstrate the computer-controlled movements of the rocket’s four aerodynamic flaps that direct its descent before landing, SpaceX engineer and livestream host John Insprucker said during the company’s broadcast.
At the end of its 6.2-mile climb, each of the rocket’s three Raptor engines gradually shut down to prepare for a brief free fall back to the ground, reorienting itself horizontally with its “belly” toward the ground.
Then came the “belly drop” maneuver. The rocket’s three engines were reignited to dive into a vertical position for landing.
SN10 slowly descended onto its landing pad, achieving a soft landing but leaning slightly to one side. Insprucker declared it a success on the SpaceX livestream: “The third time is a charm, as the saying goes. We had a successful soft landing on the runway. ”
SpaceX’s live broadcast ended before SN10’s explosive demise. Another source provided by the NASA Spaceflight website kept the cameras moving and captured the fireball, which launched the 16-story-tall rocket into the air before crashing sideways again.
Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation, fully reusable Mars rocket system designed to carry astronaut crews and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to Earth orbit, the moon, and eventually Mars. The last three prototypes SpaceX has put to the test are the first versions of the upper half of the complete Starship system, the lower half of which is a reusable super-heavy propellant powered by a series of new SpaceX Raptor rocket engines.