A prototype of SpaceX’s next generation heavy-lift rocket Starship exploded on landing after a high-altitude test flight in Texas.
The prototype, Starship serial number 9 (SN9), marked the completion of SpaceX’s second high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from the company’s site in Cameron County, Texas, on Tuesday.
Similar to the high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 8 (SN8) in December, SN9 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee — approximately 10 kilometers in altitude, said SpaceX.
The test involved flying SN9 to an altitude of around 10 km, TechCrunch reported.
SN9 successfully performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for re-entry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.
The Starship prototype descended under active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on the vehicle.
SpaceX said that all four flaps are actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location.
But during the landing flip maneuver, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed, causing an explosion.
Starship is Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX’s ambitious spacecraft to take humans to the Red Planet. The company has been working on prototypes to find the right design that will work for the transport.
“These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond,” SpaceX said after the latest test flight.