SpaceX prototype launches…then crashes in flames

SpaceX’s rocket ship has crashed in flames just minutes after its much-anticipated launch.

Starship’s test had been delayed repeatedly over the past week and excitement had been building since a last-minute engine abort on Tuesday.

But the rocket’s eventual launch from SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, was uneventful and the prototype appeared to come close to reaching its goal altitude of around eight miles.

Test flight of SpaceX's first super heavy-lift Starship SN8 rocket after it launched from their facility in Boca Chica, Texas U.S. December 9, 2020
Image:The launch was uneventful but then things went wrong

For about five minutes, the 50m-tall stainless steel craft soared over the Gulf of Mexico before turning sideways as planned and heading back towards Texas, near the border with Mexico.

The engines reignited but on touching down, the self-guided rocket exploded and its parts flew everywhere.

The test flight had lasted just six minutes and 40 seconds – a blow for SpaceX’s boss Elon Musk, who has said he wants the rocket to carry people to Mars in as little as six years.

Mr Musk blamed technical problems with the rocket, saying “fuel header tank pressure was low” during the descent, causing “touchdown velocity to be high”.

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But he also said SpaceX had obtained “all the data we needed”.

Earlier in the week, he had warned that Starship’s first high-altitude attempt probably had only a one-in-three chance of complete success.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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