SpaceX Starship SN8’s partly successful test flight ends in a fiery explosion

After a long wait and a series of preliminary tests, SpaceX’s Starship serial number 8 (SN8) finally successfully lifted off from the company’s Boca Chica test facility on Wednesday (December 09). After a six-and-a-half-minute test flight, the Starship prototype has exploded in a fireball during a landing attempt. The flight was the highest yet for the rocket ship.

The first sub-orbital flight for the SN8 prototype was nonetheless largely a successful one; it successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and performed its landing flip maneuver with precise flap control to reach its landing point. Low pressure in the fuel header tank during the landing burn led to high touchdown velocity resulting in a hard landing.

Despite the fiery, catastrophic end, SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk was thrilled. “Mars, here we come!!” he tweeted. He added that SpaceX had obtained all the data needed from the test and described the ascent as successful.

The Starship SN8 was a 16-story-tall prototype for the heavy-lift launch vehicle, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit. During the test flight, it was propelled by three of SpaceX’s newly developed Raptor engines for the first time. The aim was to reach an altitude of 41,000 feet (12,500 meters), though it is not yet clear precisely the altitude SN8 was able to reach.

This next-generation fully reusable transportation system consists of two elements, both designed to be completely reusable: a 50-meter stainless steel Starship spacecraft and a giant Super Heavy rocket. A complete Starship rocket will stand 394 feet (120 meters) tall when combined with its super-heavy first stage booster. It will sport six Raptors and is designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

However, you will need a Super-Heavy rocket to escape well from Earth’s much deeper gravity. SpaceX is iterating towards the final Starship design through a series of prototypes, starting with the unveiling of the first version in January last year, to the 150-meter hop test of SN5 a few months ago, to today’s flight of SN8.

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