SpaceX launches Starship SN11, but crashes while attempting to land
The latest SpaceX prototype of its Starship rocket was destroyed in an attempt to land after a clean launch on Tuesday.
The company’s livestream of the flight test froze as the rocket landed, and thick fog around SpaceX’s Texas facility made it difficult for witnesses to see what had happened.
The spaceship prototype Serial Number 11 or SN11 reached its target altitude of approximately 10 kilometers, or approximately 32,800 feet. The rocket is made of stainless steel and represents the early versions of the rocket introduced in 2019. Elon Musk’s company develops Starship with the goal of bringing cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.
The Starship prototypes are about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and are each powered by three Raptor rocket engines.
Starship’s SN11 prototype rocket is on the launchpad at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility.
Musk tweeted about half an hour after the test that “at least the crater is in the right place!”
“Something significant happened just after we landed. If we know what it was, we can examine the parts later today,” Musk said.
John Insprucker, SpaceX’s chief integration engineer, noted that the thick fog in the area prevented the company from showing camera views beyond those of the rocket itself.
“The frozen view we saw on the camera doesn’t mean we’re waiting for the signal. Starship 11 isn’t coming back. Don’t wait for the landing,” Insprucker said. “We seem to have lost all the data on the vehicle and of course the team is not on the landing pad, so we’ll be out there and see what we had.”
SpaceX has successfully launched four Starship prototypes for high altitude flight tests, starting with the SN8 in December, then SN9 in February, and SN10 and now SN11 in March. While the take-offs went largely according to plan, the landing attempts each ended with a large number of explosions. In particular, SpaceX is the only major rocket builder currently attempting to land its vehicles after a launch. Traditionally, large rocket amplifiers are discarded after launch.
Musk’s goal is for Starship to be fully reusable and envision a missile that resembles an airliner that can launch between flights with little maintenance and fuel. While SpaceX didn’t successfully land the prototype SN10 until after a high-altitude flight test – although the rocket exploded a few minutes later – the company landed earlier prototypes after short flights to an altitude of around 500 feet.
The SN10 spacecraft prototype returns for a soft landing on a concrete slab at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Musk said Tuesday that SpaceX’s next prototype, Starship SN15, will hit the launchpad “in a few days”.
“It has hundreds of design improvements in terms of structure, avionics / software, and engine,” said Musk.
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.