SpaceX's Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and sticks the landing in third flight test




SpaceX has launched SN10 -- the tenth iteration of its current prototype series of Starship, the heavy-lift reusable spacecraft it's developing. Starship SN10 took off from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the vehicle. It flew to a height of roughly 10 km, or 32,000 feet, before performing a maneuver to re-orient itself for a friction-assisted landing descent.

Unlike the last two Starship prototypes to fly this high, however, the roughly six-minute flight did not end in a fireball [UPDATE: Well, not immediately. The rocket did blow up while stationary on the landing pad a few minutes after landing, potentially due to a leak]. Instead, it completed its landing flip maneuver as intended and slowed itself for a soft touchdown, with the rocket remaining vertical and intact afterwards.

This was a fantastic outcome, and a nominal one in all regards according to SpaceX's livestream. But why the prior explosions to get to this point? That's partly down to the way in which it has been doing its development of this vehicle. All rocket development includes unexpected events and sub-optimal outcomes, but SpaceX has a couple of things at work that mean is efforts are subject to unusual scrutiny versus your average spaceship manufacturer.

First, it's doing this out in the open -- the Boca Chica facility is basically just a couple small buildings, some concrete pads, some storage tanks and some scaffolding. It's extremely close to a public roadway (which is closed during testing, while the surrounding area is evacuated), and people can and do just drive up and set up cameras to film what's going on. That's not at all how legacy rocket makers have typically done things.

Second, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been adamant that SpaceX pursue a development strategy of rapid iteration and prototyping with Starship's development. That has meant it's manufacturing and assembling Starship prototypes simultaneously, making small changes as it goes, rather than stepping back after each test and doing a prolonged, multi-month analysis before proceeding with building and flying another version.

 

A launch attempt earlier in the day was cut short after a brief engine fire, when instrument readings from the rocket showed a slightly high thrust value that violated what Musk termed "conservative." The fix that SpaceX instituted was actually adjusting the limit higher in order to avoid the abort initiation.

No doubt the company will do an investigation into the cause of the explosion that followed the successful flight and landing maneuver, but the test was still successful in all the ways that matter most for SpaceX at this stage of development. Next up for Starship is likely increasing the height of these test flights. Eventually, the goal is to reach orbit, of course, but SpaceX is likely to try a few launches that remain atmospheric but far exceed this one before it attempts making that trip.

COMMENTS

More Related News

A SpaceX astronaut family: Megan McArthur is about to pilot the spaceship her husband, Bob Behnken, flew last year
A SpaceX astronaut family: Megan McArthur is about to pilot the spaceship her husband, Bob Behnken, flew last year

Both partners in the astronaut couple are part of the SpaceX missions for NASA. But it's getting difficult for their son Theo, McArthur said.

Elon Musk says Starlink should be
Elon Musk says Starlink should be 'fully mobile' by the end of 2021, allowing customers to use it at any address or in moving vehicles

Elon Musk said Friday that Starlink users should be able to move their satellite internet hardware between addresses by the end of the year.

Nasa chooses SpaceX to build Moon lander
Nasa chooses SpaceX to build Moon lander

SpaceX will build a lander that the US space agency will use to return humans to the Moon this decade.

NASA awards $2.9B to SpaceX for Starship lunar lander; Blue Origin team is left out
NASA awards $2.9B to SpaceX for Starship lunar lander; Blue Origin team is left out

In a surprise move that was dictated by budget constraints, NASA is awarding $2.89 billion to SpaceX alone for the development of its Starship super-rocket...

NASA has reportedly picked SpaceX
NASA has reportedly picked SpaceX's Starship to land its next astronauts on the moon

Elon Musk has said that SpaceX's mega-spaceship could fly astronauts to the moon. Now NASA has given SpaceX an exclusive contract to do so.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Economy