SpaceX uncrewed prototype Starship rocket SN8 explodes on impact after high-altitude test flight

SpaceX’s Starship prototype SN8 lifts off.


SpaceX launched its latest prototype rocket on a flight to about 40,000 feet altitude on Wednesday, a test which appeared successful until the very last moment.

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Starship prototype Serial Number 8, or SN8, launched smoothly into the sky above SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The rocket appeared to complete several of the development objectives it was aiming for, including testing its aerodynamics and a flip to prepare itself for landing.

But the rocket exploded on impact as it attempted to land, after flying for more than six minutes.

Despite the explosive ending, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk quickly shared his enthusiasm for the overall results of the flight test – which marked a major step forward in the company’s development of its next-generation Starship rocket.

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” Musk said in a tweet.

Musk added clarification on the cause of the hard landing, but said the company “got all the data we needed” from the test.

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD [Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly], Musk said. “Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!”

Given the multiple milestones SpaceX was looking to achieve with the test, Musk had given the rocket low odds of complete success on the first try.

“Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance” of the rocket landing in one piece, Musk had said.

SpaceX similarly cautioned in statement on its website before the launch that even a crash or explosion was not necessarily a failure for this flight.

“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.

Starship prototype SN8 aborts its liftoff attempt on Dec. 8, 2020.


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