Starship number SN10 exploded on the ground after landing. That marks the third consecutive explosion of a SpaceX Starship rocket.
In February, a gleaming, 15-story rocket exploded in a massive fireball over a coastal testing facility near Brownsville, Texas. A video of the fiery crash, broadcast via YouTube by SpaceX, looked like something out of a movie. To many observers, the crash of the SN9 Starship rocket may have seemed like a significant setback for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and his team of pioneering engineers who hope someday to take people to Mars. But to SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker, the crash was all expected. “We had, again, another great flight up,” Insprucker said on the video following the crash. “We’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit”.
Work on that landing, indeed. Here’s what to know about that fiery event, a previous one in December, an upcoming
Sending rockets to space is very hard and landing them back on earth intact so they can be reused is even harder. NASA has known this for decades, but now we are in a new era of space travel, with private companies like SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and other private firms who are racing to open up space to the public in a way that only science fiction movies could imagine just a quarter-century ago.
The February 2 crash came less than three months after another Starship rocket, the SN8 , also exploded on December 9, 2020, at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility near Brownsville, Texas. Though spectacular and seemingly dangerous, both explosions were expected.
In a tweet on November 24 before the SN8 launch, Elon Musk said that a “lot of things need to go right” and gave the possibility of total success a “1/3 chance.” Despite the SN8 crash, SpaceX declared afterward that the flight represented an “awesome test,” and added, “Congratulations, Starship team!” In a tweet following the crash, Musk said the explosion was caused by low fuel tank pressure.
The SpaceX Starship program began in 2016 with the goal of launching cargo and as many as 100 people at a time on missions to the moon and eventually to Mars. During its early development stages, Musk said that the Starship vehicle could potentially launch people into space by 2020, but he has since backtracked on that statement, saying that there are likely “hundreds of missions” still ahead before that happens.
The Starship rocket is actually the second stage of a two-part reusable launch system. When fully operational, the Starship carries payload and passengers and is lifted into space using a first stage, or booster rocket, called the Super Heavy. The booster is paired with the Starship to help the vehicle leave Earth. Neither should be confused with the company’s tried-and-true Falcon 9, which has proven capable of landing reliably back on earth . The Falcon 9 also does not perform the belly-flop maneuver like the Starships do.
A lot of progress is being made on the starship project and a lot of data is being collected with each flight. Even if the subsequent startships result in them exploding, spaceX appears to be making rapid progress towards reusable heavy lift rockets, more so that any other company or goverment space program has ever delivered.