SpaceX’s first-generation Starship spacecraft’s first high-altitude test flight ended with a huge fireball in South Texas after a mission that otherwise went smoothly to landing, prompting the benevolent reaction of founder Elon Musk.
The nearly seven-minute Wednesday flight was stable until the landing attempt, when Starship couldn’t slow down enough, SpaceX video showed. The impact of the unused missile then engulfed the landing site in flames.
The Starship flight was considered a great success within the company as it remained aerodynamically stable during the take-off of the vehicle, with the “abdominal flop” approaching the landing orientation and the landing pad accurately. They fired for three minutes from the company’s new Raptor engines and offered additional data to SpaceX.
“Congratulations to the SpaceX team, yes!” CEO Musk tweeted shortly after the flight. According to him, the pressure in the fuel tank was low at descent and the landing speed was too high.
The fuel tank tank pressure was low during landing, so the landing speed was high and RUD, but we got all the necessary data! Congratulations to the SpaceX team hell yes !!
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2020
Musk predicted only about a third of the success of SN8’s initial flight, a futuristic design prototype from Space Exploration Technologies Corp. sent for the program’s first major flight. The company has made steady progress on starship prototypes at its Boca Chica plant in Texas over the past year.
Starship tried to reach 41,000 feet during the test, which was also the first flight of SpaceX’s latest Raptor engine. SpaceX also collected data on how the vehicle can turn and orient itself in a similar way to a motorized landing, like the company’s Falhor 9 worker system. He also tested several control flaps in flight.
Made of stainless steel, the Starship is a versatile, fully reusable watercraft capable of carrying 100 tons for deep space missions to the Moon and Mars, while also serving as a hypersonic, point-to-point vehicle to reduce travel time on Earth. The two-stage system is 160 feet high, 30 feet in diameter, and can carry up to 100 passengers.
SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, has several additional Starship prototypes that are almost complete. These will be used for test flights in South Texas in the future. Musk said in October that “80% -90%” is confident that Starship will be ready for an orbital flight in 2021.
Beyond this development milestone, SpaceX has won a contract from NASA to develop a version of Starship that can transport astronauts to the Moon in 2024. He also has an agreement with a Japanese contractor for a private flight around the Moon in 2023.
SpaceX is ready to launch its first Starship flight to Mars in 2026, Musk said at a Berlin event on Dec. 1, or perhaps two years earlier if its development is “lucky”.
Co-writer Dom DiFurio contributed to this story.