Here's the good news: SpaceX landed a giant Starship for the first time Wednesday (March 3), after reaching an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). The bad news: It exploded 8 minutes later.
After two similar tests ended with Starships SN8 and SN9 failing to slow down enough before landing and exploding on impact, SpaceX tried a new technique for the landing of SN10. All three rocket engines at the bottom of the 160-foot-tall (49 meters), 30-foot-wide (9 m) machine ignited as the rocket righted itself before landing; the rocket also was able to slow down enough to make a soft landing. On SpaceX's YouTube feed, John Insprucker, the company's principal integration engineer, declared the landing a success and closed the stream.
He emphasized, as SpaceX often does, that the success of the test is determined by data collected, not a perfect landing.
It was Starship's most impressive achievement to date, and immediately demonstrated how far the project — intended to one day reach the moon and Mars — has come even in the last few months of work in Boca Chica, Texas.
But as the dust cleared, it became clear that SN10 had crunched a bit on impact, sitting on the pad with a pronounced, awkward lean. A fire broke out at the base, and video streams from both NASA Spaceflight and Lab Padre showed a robotic fire extinguisher unsuccessfully battling the flames.
Eight minutes after touchdown, about 14 minutes and 45 seconds after takeoff, there was a powerful explosion somewhere inside the rocket, which uses combustible methane as propellant. The heavy metal structure was hurled into the air a second time by the blast.
And just when we thought the fun was over, SN10 took to the skies for a second time today! 😂 Great view from @LabPadre. pic.twitter.com/amX4nR91X5March 3, 2021
As of this writing, it's still not clear precisely what caused the explosion.
Originally published on Live Science.
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