The SN10 spacecraft prototype returns for a soft landing on a concrete slab at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
SpaceX’s spaceship prototype exploded for the first time shortly after landing after a high-altitude flight test on Wednesday.
The cause of the explosion, or whether it was intentional, was not immediately clear. Elon Musk alternatively refers to explosions as “RUDs” or “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”.
The company test flew with the Starship rocket Serial Number 10 or SN10. SpaceX wanted to launch the prototype to an altitude of 10 kilometers or an altitude of 32,800 feet. There were no passengers on board the rocket as it is a development vehicle and flies autonomously.
The SN10 flight was similar to SpaceX’s December and February when it tested the SN8 and SN9 prototypes. Both earlier missiles served multiple development goals – including testing aerodynamics, turning off the engines one at a time, and turning them around to align for landing – but both prototypes exploded on impact when attempting to land and couldn’t slow down enough.
As with the SN8 and SN9, the goal of the SN10 flight was not necessarily to reach the maximum altitude, but rather to test several important parts of the spacecraft system. SpaceX fired all three engines to take off, then shut them off one by one as the rocket neared its intended altitude.
SN10 then transferred propellant from the main tanks to the collection tanks before turning for the “belly flop” re-entry maneuver – which allows it to descend through the air in a controlled manner using the missile’s four flaps. In the final moments of the descent, SpaceX turned the rocket over and brought it back into a vertical orientation. The Raptor engines were fired to slow down for landing.
“The third time is the allure, as the saying goes – we had a successful soft touchdown on the landing pad,” said John Insprucker, SpaceX principal integration engineer, on the company’s webcast
The spacecraft SN10 ignites its three engines and turns around before landing.
The Starship prototype stands about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and is powered by three Raptor rocket engines. The rocket is made of stainless steel and represents the early versions of the rocket introduced in 2019.
“The Texas team has several more suborbital test vehicles under construction, with the number 11 going to be available on the pad in the near future,” Insprucker said.
Musk’s company develops Starship with the goal of bringing cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.
Starship is one of two “Manhattan projects” that SpaceX is developing at the same time. The other is the Starlink satellite internet program. Musk previously estimated that Starship would cost around $ 5 billion to fully develop, although SpaceX has not yet disclosed how much it has spent on the program.
The company raised $ 850 million in its most recent capital raise, valued at $ 74 billion, last month.
Musk remains “very confident” that Starship “will be safe enough for human transportation by 2023” – an ambitious target as the company began serious development and testing of the missile in early 2019.
But Musk’s schedule is crucial, as Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has paid to fly a spacecraft around the moon until 2023. Maezawa announced Tuesday that he is inviting eight members of the public to join his DearMoon mission, which will be a six-day trip to the moon and back.
Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis as well as live business day programs from around the world.