SpaceX was able to launch one of its Starship prototypes on a high-altitude test flight Tuesday, but once again, was not able to land successfully with the vehicle exploding into a massive fireball.
The Starship SN9, as in serial number 9, was able to lift off from the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas on a suborbital hop powered by three Raptor engines, which shut down in sequential order hitting the target altitude of 10 km.
The flight was similar to the test flight of the now-obliterated Starship SN8 that performed well except for the landing back in December.
On its descent, SN9 once again enacted a belly-flop maneuver and attempted to relight its engines to correct itself into a vertical position to stick the landing. The last aspect didn’t quite work, with what looked like one engine not firing, and the vehicle overcorrecting as it slammed into the landing site.
The video stream showed the ensuing fireball and debris cloud plume shooting up to more than 1,000 feet into the sky.
“And again we’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit,” said a SpaceX commentator. “And reminder, this is a test flight ... we’ve got a lot of good data. ... We will take a lot out of that.”
The flight mirrored a lot of what the SN8 flight accomplished.
“We had another great flight up to the 10 km apogee, we demonstrated the ability to transition the engines to the landing propellant tanks. The subsonic re-entry looked very good and stable like we saw last December so we’ve got a lot of good data on flap control,” the commentator said. “The primary objective to demonstrate control of the vehicle in this subsonic re-entry looked to be very good.”
The entire test flight took 6 minutes, 26 seconds.
The company has another prototype, SN10, already assembled at the launch facility, where SpaceX has been proving out its next-generation rocket.
The Starship design is meant to be used for both suborbital point-to-point flights on Earth and for deep-space missions such as to the moon and Mars. The full version will feature six Raptor engines, stand about 165 feet tall and have a 100-passenger capacity. The large version of Starship would be coupled with a Super Heavy booster with 37 Raptor engines combined for Mars colonization plans.
Starship is the company’s eventual replacement for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.