Another prototype of the Starship vehicle, SpaceX’s SN10, flew in Boca Chica, Texas that Wednesday afternoon (3) and landed smoothly on the platform for the first time. Explode violently minutes later. Make no mistake: it’s incredibly good news.
It’s hard to describe how thrilling and thrilling an aggressive and daring flight test campaign like SpaceX is. The goal is known: to create a fully reusable vehicle that will allow one to travel to Mars and return safely, which would be the main infrastructure for the beginning of the colonization of the red planet. To do this, the company headed by Elon Musk tries in the same program:
Develop a launcher with a capacity similar to Saturn V that took people to the moon but is completely reusable. Find out how to make large quantities of this rocket at a lower cost than any previous rocket.
To do this, test models must be built at breakneck speed and tested in flight to improve the design while also figuring out how to build them by hand.
Since the test program began, SpaceX has made short flights over 150 meters that went up and down smoothly. Since December last year, they have been trying to make an altitude flight of 10 to 15 km using the Prototype 8 (SN8) to test the descent and landing they expect from an orbital flight when the company gets there.
After all flight maneuvers were correctly performed, including a belly drop controlled by aerodynamic structures followed by a last minute spin for a vertical landing, the SN8 descended too quickly and exploded on landing.
SN9 did basically the same thing on Feb.2 (after some conflict between SpaceX and FAA, the agency that regulates civil aviation and commercial missile launches in the US) and the right to explode on landing.
And then, now, just a month later, on March 3rd, we saw the SN10 repeat the successes of the SN8 and 9 and then smoothly descend on the platform. And then, just over 7 minutes after landing, explode – possibly due to a methane leak.
So is it a failure? No, it’s a great success. The flight trio showed that SpaceX is on track to 1) climb into space, 2) control the vehicle’s orientation upon re-entry, 3) perform the turning maneuver for a vertical landing, and 4) speed for a soft landing to reduce.
Point 4 certainly needs to be improved so that the integrity of the vehicle is maintained even after landing. But no one would deny that in just three months between late December and early March it was a significant step forward.
The aggressive program continues. SN11 comes with lessons from its predecessor. And SpaceX is already preparing to fly the first leg, which is supposed to strengthen the spaceship, the super heavy. As a two-stage vehicle, it will be the most powerful, versatile and cheapest in its class ever made in human history.
If that’s not surprising, imagine that the SN10 is 50 meters tall and the size of an 18-story building. It couldn’t be more amazing. And the best is coming.
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