SpaceX has released stunning footage (above) of its recent Starship test, complete with annotations pointing out the key stages of the spacecraft’s maiden high-altitude flight.
The commercial space transportation company led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk launched the uncrewed Starship SN8 prototype from its test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9.
The next-generation spacecraft, which SpaceX plans to combine with its Super Heavy rocket to make a powerful two-stage vehicle for missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond, reached an altitude of around 40,000 feet before its three Raptor engines cut out ahead of its descent.
After performing a first-of-its-kind controlled aerodynamic descent and landing flip maneuver on its way down, the rocket’s engines re-engaged to slow the vehicle as it came in to land just over six minutes after lift-off.
Despite the explosive ending to the mission after the rocket hit the ground at speed, SpaceX considered the test flight a roaring success as the team was able to gather a slew of important data to help it with further development of the advanced space vehicle.
The final Starship rocket system will comprise SpaceX’s first-stage Super Heavy rocket and the second-stage Starship spacecraft (collectively known as Starship).
The Super Heavy rocket will use 31 Raptor engines to carry Starship to space. After that, Starship will use a total of six Raptor engines for travel between different locations and be capable of returning to Earth or landing on another planet. The spacecraft could even carry as many as 100 astronauts at once — up to now the largest crew to embark on a single mission comprised eight astronauts who traveled on NASA’s Space Shuttle in 1985.
SpaceX CEO Musk said recently that if future testing goes according to plan, an uncrewed Starship mission to Mars could take place as early as 2024.
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, this year has been a busy one for SpaceX. In the summer its Crew Dragon spacecraft flew astronauts to the ISS for the first time, while it also made progress with its broadband-from-space Starlink initiative. In October it achieved its 100th successful launch since its first Falcon 1 flight in 2008, and just a few days ago it launched its 26th mission this year, establishing a new record for the company. And then there’s Starship, SpaceX’s most ambitious project to date, and one that has the potential to transform space travel as we know it.
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