SpaceX launches winged Starship SN8 rocket; it explodes on landing

  • SpaceX launched a prototype of its Starship spaceship thousands of feet into the air above its Boca Chica, Texas, facilities on Tuesday. The 16-story vehicle exploded upon landing.
  • But Elon Musk previously estimated a 2-3 chance that the test flight would fail because it pushed Starship faster and farther than ever before.
  • “Awesome test. Congrats Starship team!” SpaceX wrote in text during a live broadcast. Musk described the flight as successful in a tweet.
  • The flight helps advance the development of Starship toward a two-stage vehicle that may one day send people to the moon and Mars.
  • But first SpaceX has to clear several more earthly hurdles, including a new environmental analysis of its launch-site use.
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SpaceX launched a towering prototype of its Starship spaceship into the stratosphere on Tuesday, but the vehicle exploded upon landing in Boca Chica, Texas, after a nearly seven-minute flight.

Such a fiery outcome wasn’t unexpected, though, and SpaceX hailed the audacious test as a success in its live broadcast on YouTube.

“AWESOME TEST. CONGRATS STARSHIP TEAM!” the company wrote in text while showing wreckage of the vehicle, called Starship serial No. 8, or SN8.

Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, previously estimated a 2-3 chance that the test flight would fail. Musk said last week that a “lot of things need to go right” for the prototype to land intact.

That was because the flight of SN8 was its most strenuous flight ever attempted. The vehicle also represents the most advanced Starship prototype the company has launched to date: It stood 16 stories tall, used three car-sized Raptor rocket engines, and came with canards and wing flaps to fly it through the atmosphere in free fall.

The vehicle was expected to roar about 41,000 feet, or 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers), into the air above SpaceX’s expanding facilities at Boca Chica. (It’s unclear if the vehicle reached that exact altitude.) About 6 minutes and 42 seconds after liftoff, the steel-bodied vehicle attempted to rocket to a landing but didn’t have enough thrust, causing it to crash and explode.

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” Musk tweeted after the flight, later adding: “SN8 did great! Even reaching apogee would’ve been great, so controlling all way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic!!”

Ahead of the flight, SpaceX said on its website that “SN8’s flight test is an exciting next step in the development of a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”

SpaceX plans to launch additional prototypes to further develop Starship. One called SN9 is already built and waiting in a facility down the road. The company hopes to eventually fly a 23-story rocket booster…

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