You may recall back in December when SpaceX was doing a short up-and-down test of their colossal new Starship that ended in a crash and a gigantic fireball when the quad-winged-silo-like rocket attempted to make a vertical landing but came in a bit hot and crashed. This time, the rocket didn’t even manage to get to the proper orientation, instead of coming down at about a 45-degree angle and then meeting the ground, immediately to be consumed by a ball of flame. Rockets are hard, friends.
This kind of vertical landing is sort of SpaceX’ signature maneuver, as they were the first to really make this sort of landing work for their very successful Falcon 9 rockets back in 2015, and this landing method is what enabled SpaceX to make the first stage of the Falcon 9 reusable.
The plans for Starship mission profiles include a similar vertical landing, though that has yet to be achieved in SpaceX’ testing. Here’s how it went earlier today, from their Boca Chica, Texas launch facility:
Exciting stuff, and it was going pretty great until it went pretty un-great.
Here’s another video of the test flight:
The Starship SN9 prototype seems to have done the high-altitude part of the flight just fine, reaching about 32,800 feet (that’s about 6.2 miles up) and was seen throttling back its three Raptor engines down to two, then one engine. It also performed a maneuver to translate from a vertical orientation to a horizontal one(called the belly flop), but in the process of the “flip” maneuver, where the vehicle returns to its vertical orientation for landing, it seems to have overshot the angle and ended up too horizontal.
It’s important to remember that these are test flights; this is part of how engineers learn, and sometimes it’s loud and messy. There’s no doubt a metric crapton of useful data to be gathered here, and it appears that much of the flight, prior to the fireball, went well: engines worked, engines were re-routed to separate landing propellant tank and the flap control systems seemed to be working, at least somewhat.
But, yeah, that landing is, uh, not there yet. That’s okay, though, as you can see in that video there’s another Starship prototype waiting to be tested — SN10 — so it’s pretty assured that SpaceX will be trying again, soon, hopefully, this time with much less dramatic results, at least visually.