SpaceX is finally close to performing a high-altitude test flight for a prototype of its Starship vehicle, after yesterday’s attempt was scrubbed by an auto-abort from its Raptor engines. The company is ready to try again today, and came within a couple of minutes of launching earlier before pausing the countdown and restarting.
Now the SpaceX live stream says it’s targeting a launch time of 5:40 PM ET, and if everything goes well then we will see Starship SN8 fly to an altitude of 12.5 km (41,000 feet) and attempt a record-setting “landing flip maneuver” on its way back to the base in Boca Chica, TX. For a more detailed way to follow the action, the enthusiasts at NASA Spaceflight also have a live feed that broadcasts from multiple angles with live commentary.
Update (6 PM ET): After a successful launch, the Starship rose and successfully maneuvered its way to the landing area. However, it appeared that the spacecraft didn’t slow down enough for a proper landing, and it exploded in thrilling fashion. The moment recalls the many attempts we saw of Falcon 9 landings that didn’t quite work out until, of course, they did.
On the live feed, SpaceX said the test was successful and noted it would be moving on to testing the SN9 prototype next. Elon Musk tweeted “Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” In a follow-up, he explained the landing, saying that low fuel header tank pressure during the landing burn contributed to the high touchdown velocity and the massive explosion. The good news, is that the team got “all the data we needed” and it appears everything is in order for future tests.
Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2020
SO CLOSE! What a win though! pic.twitter.com/hbGhe1VOYi
— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) December 9, 2020