What just happened? Starship SN10, SpaceX’s third prototype subjected to a high-altitude test flight following two failed attempts with the SN8 and SN9, became its first rocket to make it back to the ground in one piece. However, a fire broke out upon touchdown, and around eight minutes later, the rocket exploded on the landing pad.
Boca Chica, Texas, and the world (via live stream) saw the launch of SpaceX’s SN10 (Serial No 10) prototype on Wednesday as it went up 10km into the sky with the powerful thrust of its three Raptor engines.
Unlike the SN8 and SN9 rockets that exploded on impact during their landing phase, SN10’s flight appeared much more controlled and even managed to make it back in one piece. However, the dust settling around the rocket revealed a slightly tilted Starship with a small fire at its base, indicating some damage had been done during touchdown.
Skip to the 5:40 mark to see the launch and 11:40 for Starship’s incredible landing flip maneuver.
It wasn’t until eight minutes later that the 50m-tall stainless steel SN10 rocket exploded and burst into flames, reportedly after a leak had developed in its propellant tank. The footage was captured by NASASpaceflight cameras, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk calling it an “honorable discharge.”
Oof. SN10 has decided to join SN8 and SN9.
Still a great advancement with the landing.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) March 3, 2021
“The key point of today’s test flight was to gather the data on controlling the vehicle while re-entering,” said SpaceX engineer John Insprucker. The launch was originally aborted at the very last second, which Elon Musk said was to make adjustments to the rocket’s “slightly conservative” thrust limit.
With the SN10 now resting in pieces and SpaceX gaining invaluable insight from these tests, things are likely to go much more smoothly – from start to finish – for the eight tourists that’ll join Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for the first-ever civilian lunar mission expected in 2023.