It was afternoon in the USA when SpaceX conducted the flight test of the Starship prototype identified as SN10 in Boca Chica, Texas, the third after the one conducted on February 2, 2020. SpaceX engineers made some refinements to the SN10 to solve the problems that led to the crash of the previous prototypes. SN10 also made a regular flight up to an altitude of about 10 kilometers and then attempted a controlled landing at the end of a series of maneuvers, and this time was successful. Staff and fans watching the test had a few minutes to cheer, then SN10 exploded for reasons yet to be determined. The test was a success, but there’s still work to be done on Starship.
SpaceX is heavily testing the onboard systems of its new spacecraft called Starship with real flights, even if only to an altitude up to a few kilometers. The project is very ambitious, as Starship is a spacecraft with a new type of engine that can blast off on its own, and atop the SuperHeavy rocket can be launched into deep space.
The people who saw the previous tests found the flight of the SN10 prototype almost boring because the maneuvers performed were more or less the same as in the previous tests. There was a vertical climb followed by maneuvers which resulted in the SN10 falling down in a controlled manner after the engines were shut down. The great anticipation concerned the landing maneuver, which this time was successful.
In the tests of the SN8 and SN9 prototypes, there was an attempt to restart two of the three Raptor engines, in this case, all three engines of the SN10 were turned on to bring it back to the vertical position and offer a better possibility of braking in case of problems at one of them. After the SN10 returned to vertical, one of the engines was shut down and a second engine was shut down a few meters from landing when the speed was very low. SN10 reached the ground in one piece.
Apparently, the landing seemed successful and the SpaceX live broadcast ended. However, a few minutes later, the SN10 prototype exploded on the landing pad. There are no official announcements from SpaceX yet, but it’s possible that the maneuver was not fully successful and there was some structural damage. In these cases, a small fuel loss is enough to risk an explosion.
The recent loss of a first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, possibly due to wear on an engine component, shows how complex these pioneering advances are. Each new landing can show new problems and this is all the more true for prototypes. However, yesterday’s text shows some nice progress in Starship’s development.
This is SpaceX’s official video from yesterday’s test.
The explosion was filmed in unofficial live shows such as that of Everyday Astronaut (check his YoutTube channel and follow him for more interesting space stuff).