SpaceX wants to eventually take humans to Mars. It’s a bold goal and honestly, if I trusted anyone to eventually do it, I’d pick Elon Musk and company. But before we finally head over to the red planet and see what’s up with the Martians and such, we need a reliable rocket to get us there. And that’s proving to be something of an issue in the short-term. On Tuesday SpaceX tested a launch and landing of its Starship SN9 rocket. The going up part was good to go. The coming down? Well, not so much. Check out the crash landing for SpaceX’s SN9 rocket.
SpaceX’s SN9 launch, which took place in Texas, was going as planned with the rocket launching six miles up in the air. It had the engines going and performed a flipping maneuver that was going bring it “gently” back down to Earth. This was meant to simulate the rocket’s reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. As you can see, that didn’t go exactly according to plan. The SN9 couldn’t get fully turned over, failed to reduce its speed enough, and ended up horizontal instead of vertical for landing. The result was a bellyflop that ended completely exploding it on impact into an epic fireball.
John Insprucker, principal engineer for SpaceX said, among other things, “Again, we’ve just got to work on the landing a little bit.” This seems like the understatement of the century compared to what we saw happen on screen. But Insprucker and others didn’t seem all that dismayed by what would appear to be on the surface, an epic fail. In general, the conceit was the company used the launch to collect a lot of valuable data for future tests.
The SpaceX SN9 is powered by three Raptor engines and is meant to work in conjunction with a larger company rocket (Super Heavy) to eventually be the vehicle that brings humans to Mars and beyond. The whole point of the design and testing is to make these totally reusable rockets, able to go through multiple launches and trips. The ability to land correctly is half the battle in being able to use them again. This SN9 won’t get the chance, but they are developing the SN10 for just such a thing.
And it won’t be long until SpaceX takes another crack at this. When they rolled out the SN9 on to the launch pad, the SN10 came right along with it. The whole point of these tests is to perform them quickly and continue repeating the process.
SpaceX, despite this explosion, has had a groundbreaking year or so. They launched four astronauts into space a few months ago, as part of their commercial crew program. It ultimately docked with the International Space Station in the first partnership with NASA. Plus, two months ago they also made a high altitude test as part of their repeatable program. That rocket was the SN8 which was part of the data collection process. So you might have seen the SN9 explode, but SpaceX just sees this as part of the process.