There was a strong feeling of déjà vu about SpaceX’s second Starship prototype rocket test on Tuesday, February 2. Why? Because, just like the previous high-altitude test flight, it crashed and burned upon landing.
Powered by its three Raptor engines, the “SN9” prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation rocket roared off the launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas, at 12:25 p.m. PT, reaching its 32,800-feet target altitude at just past the four-minute mark.
On its descent, the 160-foot-tall booster again performed the all-important flip maneuver in preparation for an upright landing, but, like in its first high-altitude test flight in December 2020, the rocket came down too hard, and at a slight angle, causing it to explode in a spectacular fireball.
“We had, again, another great flight up,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s livestream of the test flight, adding, “We’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit.”
The Starship prototype descended under active aerodynamic control, achieved via independent movement of the vehicle’s two forward and two aft flaps actuated by an onboard flight computer that also controls Starship’s altitude and landing procedure.
Once SpaceX nails its Starship technology, the team will launch the spacecraft — which also acts as a second-stage booster — atop the powerful first-stage Super Heavy rocket, a 31-Raptor engine first-stage booster that’s also still under development.
The ultimate goal is to deploy the Starship and Super Heavy rocket as a fully reusable space transportation system, carrying as many as 100 people and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.
“All told, another great [flight],” Insprucker said later, “[As a] reminder, this is a test flight — the second time we’ve launched Starship in this configuration. We’ve got a lot of good data, and achieved the primary objective to demonstrate control of the vehicle and the subsonic reentry.”
The S10 prototype is already in place at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in readiness for the third high-altitude test flight, which could occur in the coming weeks. Ahead of it, the team will be taking a long, hard look at its gathered data and presumably making some careful adjustments to give the booster a better chance of surviving its next outing.
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