SpaceX continued its rich tradition of destroying Starship prototypes with SN11 succumbing to an explosive end during a high-altitude flight test.
Originally planned for 29 March, the test flight from the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas, had been postponed until this morning because a Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) had been unable reach the site in time to observe the test.
The inspector was present today to witness another demonstration of Tesla Technoking Elon Musk's prowess at blowing up big, shiny rockets.
The test was a repeat of the Serial Number 10 prototype vehicle flight earlier in March. SN10 broke the heart of SpaceX fanbois around the globe by coming so close to complete success. That vehicle managed to return from its high-altitude test in one piece, landing upright. However, seconds later it exploded spectacularly, leaving the way clear (except for some bits of twisted metal) for SN11.
With SN10 almost succeeding, hopes were high for SN11.
The silver rocket, obscured by mist, launched on time. The three Raptor engines appeared to burn normally during the flight, with one shutting down just after the two-minute mark as planned. A second engine was then shut down before the vehicle reached the desired 10km point and the last engine was cut off.
Despite spotty video, the signature "belly flop" of the vehicle was visible as SN11 flipped over for its return to Earth. As it passed through 1km in altitude (according to the SpaceX announcer) the Raptors could be seen gimballing into position and at least one igniting.
And then the video froze again.
However, the audio continued for a few more seconds before a very audible bang was heard. Shortly after, SpaceX's announcer returned to the air to confirm "another exciting test."
Exciting for those on the ground, perhaps, as the rocket exploded in the mist.
Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly aside, the test was relatively successful, though there were a few issues during ascent. Musk noted: "Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn't reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn't needed."
However, the big issue according to SpaceX's boss was that "something significant happened shortly after landing burn start [sic]."
You think? Not so much Technoking, more Monty Python Swamp King at the rate Musk is ploughing through Starship prototypes, high production rate or not.
Still, we'll leave the last word to the man himself. ®
At least the crater is in the right place!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021