SpaceX Starship test launch ends in fireball explosion at touchdown

Katie Ramirez
January 27, 2021

"With a test such as this, success is not measured by completion of specific objectives but rather how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship", a statement on the company's website said, implying even before the launch that an explosion or crash would not mean a failed mission.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, however, is still thrilled about the test, stating on Twitter: "Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!"

The most recent model stood at 160 feet tall and was propelled by three Raptor engines.

Any future starship rocket will be equipped with 37 engines instead of nine, and will be 120 meters (390 feet) high and capable of carrying 100 tons of cargo into orbit around the earth.

The entire flight - as dramatic and flashy as it gets, even by SpaceX standards - lasted six minutes and 42 seconds.

The event was live-streamed on SpaceX's Youtube channel.

Musk had kept expectations low, cautioning earlier this week there was "probably" 1-in-3 chance of complete success. The fuel tank pressure was low, however, when the engines reignited for touchdown, which caused Starship to come down too fast.

"We got all the data we needed!"

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who founded the Blue Origin rocket company, praised the launch, saying: "Anyone who knows how hard this stuff is is impressed by today's Starship test".

Test flights take place in an nearly desolate area of southern Texas in the Gulf of Mexico near the US-Mexican border - no air crash is likely to cause physical or property damage.

For this latest flight, the addition of a nose-cone and stabilizing fins had Starship SN8 looking far more like the rocket's final intended form.

Starship is actually the upper stage of Musk's envisioned moon- and Mars-ships.

SpaceX's Starship has reached magnificent new heights, today climbing to high altitude before exploding in a spectacular fireball during a landing attempt.

Known for developing cost-effective outer space delivery systems, SpaceX hopes to carry humans to Mars in the Starship.

Aside from exemplifying NASA's new and promising relationship with SpaceX's Starship development program, the use of space agency surveillance assets also serves as a convenient barometer to judge Starship SN8's launch timing with.

Right before Wednesday's launch, NASA announced the 18 US astronauts who will train for the Artemis moon-landing program. Musk said in October he's "80 per cent-90 per cent" confident that Starship will be ready for an orbital flight in 2021. But Musk is the first to admit his timelines can be overly optimistic.

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