Story at a glance
- The stainless steel spacecraft ascended to more than 32,000 feet Wednesday before falling back toward Earth and successfully landing on the launch pad.
- Several minutes later the spacecraft exploded.
- It was the first successful soft landing of a Starship prototype.
A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft that the private rocket company is hoping to one day send to the moon and Mars successfully landed for the first time following a high-altitude flight test on Wednesday.
Several minutes later, the stainless steel rocket ship was destroyed in a fiery explosion on the landing pad.
Despite the explosion, the successful landing marked a major milestone for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, as the company aims to develop a fully reusable heavy lift rocket.
The test of Starship rocket Serial Number 10, or SN10, this week comes after two earlier high-altitude test flights of Starship rocket prototypes in December and February. Both of those rockets reached similarly high altitudes as SN 10, but exploded on impact as they attempted to land at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
The Starship SN10 launched from the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, Wednesday afternoon, was aborted hours after liftoff during a first launch attempt with just a fraction of a second left on the countdown. The engines shut off when an onboard computer detected too much thrust from one of the rocket’s three engines.
During the second launch, SN10 ascended toward an altitude of 32,000 feet before shutting down its engines one by one and tipping over into a horizontal position. The spacecraft then fell in a belly flop position toward the ground before firing its engines again to become vertical and slow down to safely land.
“Third time’s the charm,” John Insprucker, SpaceX principal integration engineer, said on the company’s webcast. “We’ve had a successful soft touchdown on the landing pad, capping a beautiful test flight of Starship 10.”
“As a reminder, a key point of today’s test flight was to gather the data on controlling the vehicle while reentering, and we were successful in doing so,” he said, adding that a Starship SN11 will be making its way to the launch pad in “the very near future.”
Shortly after, the rocket exploded.
SpaceX has yet to explain exactly what went wrong, but the test was celebrated by the company’s CEO.
“Starship SN10 landed in one piece!” Musk tweeted.
“The SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he said.
Musk said this week that Starship will be ready to launch humans into orbit and beyond by 2023.
Early Thursday morning, SpaceX also launched a new batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit, with its Falcon 9 reusable rocket successfully landing on a floating platform at sea. The purpose of Starlink is to eventually offer internet access from virtually anywhere on the planet through a system of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit.
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