WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) — The latest prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket Starship launched successfully on Tuesday, but exploded on impact during landing attempt.
Starship prototype Serial Number 9 (SN9) aimed to fly as high as 10 km. The test flight was similar to the one SpaceX conducted last December, when it launched prototype SN8 on the highest and longest flight to date.
While SN9 flew successfully on Tuesday, it hit the ground explosively in its landing attempt, just like the SN8 test flight did.
“We had, again, another great flight up … we’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s webcast of the flight.
SN9 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee — approximately 10 km in altitude, said SpaceX on its website.
SN9 successfully performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which held landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry 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.
During the landing flip maneuver, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed and experience a RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), according to SpaceX.
Although Starship SN9 suffered the same explosive fate as SN8 two months ago, SpaceX views the test flight as a step forward in the rocket’s development. SN10, likely the next to attempt a launch-and-landing, was already in place when SN9 took to the skies.
“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,” said SpaceX.
The space company said its Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tons to Earth orbit.