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9 Dec, 2020 22:58

SpaceX Starship prototype EXPLODES during attempted landing (VIDEO)

SpaceX Starship prototype EXPLODES during attempted landing (VIDEO)

Elon Musk’s ambitious Starship project seems to have suffered a setback after the SN8 prototype underwent a rapid unscheduled disassembly event while attempting to land following a high-altitude suborbital flight test in Texas.

The Starship serial number 8 (SN8) took off from the SpaceX site in Cameron County on Wednesday evening. At first everything went well, with the vehicle launching successfully, reaching the apogee and flipping over to begin its descent… only to end in a fiery crash as it just missed the landing pad.

The “landing flip maneuver,” the first for a vehicle of this size, was supposed to be the cherry on top for SpaceX. However, the flight aimed to test a number of other things, from the performance of the Starship’s Raptor engines to its aerodynamic re-entry capabilities and propellant transition. Those appear to have gone well enough.

“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 and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship,” the company said ahead of the launch.

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted, but the company “got all the data we needed” from the test, he said. 

“Mars, here we come!” he added.

SpaceX has produced 10 serial prototypes of the Starship and conducted two low-altitude flight tests this year, along with 330 ground engine starts. While SN8 is gone, SN9 is “almost ready to move to the pad,” the company said.

The project aims to produce “a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”

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Early tests of the Starship went poorly, with the first couple of prototypes exploding or imploding on the launch pad or just after takeoff. A single-engine Starship managed to rise to an altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters) back in August – not quite Mars, but better than nothing.

Musk’s quest for the stars has also attracted the attention of the Pentagon, which is interested in weaponizing it for its own needs closer to Earth. In October, the US Transportation Command inked an agreement with SpaceX to explore the possibilities of using the Starship as a military transport.

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