Videos SpaceX has conducted a test of the Starship it plans to use for crewed flights to Mars, and while the experiment ended badly, the trip was judged a success.
Wednesday's flight used just the Starship – the second stage of SpaceX's planned heavy lifter. Previous flights had seen the craft ascend to around 500 feet. This time around the goal was a high-altitude test that would take it to 41,000 feet, before returning to terra firma to prove its reusability.
As the video below shows, the vehicle lifted off (at around 1:48:00) and then came down belly-first before pivoting for landing (1:53:00).
SpaceX's summary of the mission said that Starship "successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and performed its landing flip maneuver with precise flap control to reach its landing point."
But not everything went right. The vids above and below show the excitement. Spoiler: big ball of flame!
Starship landing flip maneuver pic.twitter.com/QuD9HwZ9CX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 10, 2020
Despite that excitement, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was chuffed with the outcome.
Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2020
Why so upbeat despite the unhappy ending? Musk rated the chances of mission success as one in three, and SpaceX has other prototypes ready to fly. This one didn't even have the engine configuration planned for the production model. So getting everything right bar the landing is a decent outcome.
Musk therefore declared that the flight was an important step towards a Martian flight, and the heavy lift capabilities SpaceX says will take us to the Moon and enable larger satellite launches.
SpaceX has had a decent week as it launched a robotic Dragon supply capsule to the International Space Station. That capsule was the first of its type to automatically dock with the ISS. Among the payloads on the Dragon are the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock, the first-ever commercially owned and operated airlock on the ISS. The airlock will be used for things like Cubesat launches or shifting kit that will be used on space walks. It can handle kit five times larger than the alternative Japanese Experiment Module Airlock. ®