SpaceX is one step closer to restoring its Falcon line of active-duty spacecraft: it’s model “SN8” spacecraft reach in milestone this ongoing spacecraft development plan, traveling to an altitude of 40,000 feet at SpaceX’s development facility in South Texas.
One of the Starship’s three Raptor engines cut out within two minutes of flight, but the rocket prototype continued to climb. Then around three minutes, another went off, leaving only one on and firing. The spacecraft continued to climb, oriented upward, but it was difficult to tell exactly how high the feed was reaching. The third exploded around 4:30 a.m. on this mission, also the starship was turned in a horizontal position, leaning toward Earth but effectively flat at its belly, gliding.
This spacecraft’s engines were reignited as the rocket surrounded the ground, flipping this rocket into a vertical orientation once more also slowing its descent. However, it landed slightly harder than expected, resulting in an explosion that engulfed this rocket. That is yet a successful test and it was better than SpaceX or greatest observers probably expected. The SpaceX flight controller could be heard on this broadcast congratulating the team on a job well done.
While a flight that ends with an explosion and the total loss of the spacecraft may not seem like a victory when you’re designing and testing an entirely new spacecraft. SpaceX was hoping that this test flight would likely not achieve all of its goals, and CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter earlier this week that he likely anticipated that it could reach its target flight height, but wouldn’t do much else. He appears to have done that and succeeded in his flop belly maneuver, as well as reorienting himself correctly to land, but with too much speed for the touchdown.
The team has undoubtedly collected a ton of valuable data from this test and will now retrieve those lessons to help improve their next attempts. SpaceX already has two more prototypes, SN9 and SN10, effectively ready for follow-up testing. Those already have improvements compared to the SN8 that flew today, and the team will quickly implement additional adjustments based on this flight and the data they obtained during testing.