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SpaceX Test Rocket Goes Up and Explodes Again

Something went wrong early for Starship, with shards of metal raining down around the launch site including debris that hit one of the cameras.

“Five, four, three, two, one. Liftoff.” “T-plus 33 seconds, Starship test vehicle No. 11, ascending over Starbase in South Texas.” “One kilometer altitude.” “We’ve heard the call out, we’re over 1 kilometer up, views from the external camera on Starship No. 11, looking back towards the Starbase facility in the fog in South Texas. T-plus 2 minutes, 21 seconds, you can see we have shut down the first of the three engines on time as planned. T-plus 5:45, we’ve just passed through 1 kilometer altitude, getting ready for the relay. We’re back with you. As you can see from the frozen camera view, we lost the clock at t-plus 5 minutes, 49 seconds. Looks like we’ve had another exciting test of Starship No. 11.”

Through a series of test flights since December, SpaceX has successfully launched prototypes of Starship, intended to take people to Mars one day, and after reaching an altitude of several miles, demonstrated a controlled belly flop back toward to the ground. But each time, the rocket encountered trouble during or after landing, resulting in spectacular explosions.

This time, something went wrong earlier, as the engines reignited at the start of the landing procedure. Video from SpaceX then froze, at 5:49 minutes after liftoff.

Coverage by NASASpaceflight, a website for space enthusiasts, showed shards of metal raining down around the launch site including debris that hit one the cameras.

“Looks like we’ve had another exciting test,” said John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer narrating the company’s webcast.

The launch was shrouded in early morning fog with little visible except from cameras on Starship.

Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, said on Twitter there appeared to be a problem with one of the engines during the ascent and it did not quite work properly when it reignited for landing. But, he added, it should not have been needed.

SpaceX takes a fail-fast, fix-fast approach, using the tests to identify shortcomings of design and making adjustments on subsequent flights.

Five, four, three, two, one, ignition. We have liftoff. Acknowledge software. FC2 please prepare for Section 35, OAC, SE1 and LVN.

Mr. Musk later said on Twitter that the engine thrust was lower than needed to slow the rocket, which hit the ground at a speed of 10 meters per second, or 22 miles per hour. The force of impact crushed the legs and part of the bottom of the rocket.

However, many are skeptical about Mr. Musk’s assertion that the company is just a few years from sending a Starship to Mars, saying he has repeatedly set timelines for SpaceX that proved far too optimistic.

Instead, several catastrophic failures happened because of faulty welding. When the propellant tanks stopped rupturing, two of the prototypes made short successful flights last year. Those earlier Starship prototypes resembled spray paint cans with their labels removed, rising nearly 500 feet using a single rocket engine before setting back down at the Texas test site.

With the latest failure, Starship is a long way from being ready for a trip to orbit. But SpaceX already has its eyes on future tests that will lift subsequent Starship prototypes to much greater altitudes. Earlier this month, Mr. Musk shared a picture of a prototype of the large booster stage that will be needed for a trip to space. It is over 200 feet tall.

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Category: Science

Source: New York Times

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