The latest prototype of SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle fell to Earth in a fiery landing, exploding as it returned during Elon Musk-owned company’s test launch today.
“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” Musk tweeted after the incident.
"Mars, here we come!!" the SpaceX CEO said in a tweet soon after.
Dubbed SN8, the vehicle lifted off from SpaceX’s test site at Boca Chica, Texas, at approximately 5:45 p.m. The flight was the first high-altitude test of the vehicle, intended to go to an altitude of 12.5km before descending and making a powered vertical landing back at the launch site. It exploded when attempting to land several minutes after a successful lift off, leaving it destroyed. It almost only left behind a large portion of the nose cone section.
Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit. It is designed to deliver satellites further and at a lower marginal cost per launch than current Falcon vehicles.
The Starship SN8 vehicle is the latest in a line of prototypes developed by SpaceX for its next-generation reusable launch system. The company conducted ‘Hop’ flights of two previous vehicles SN5 and SN6 in August and September, during which they reached an altitude of about 150m during one minute flights. The prototypes lacked nose cone sections and aerodynamic surfaces needed for high-altitude flights and were retired following the tests.