Earlier this year, SpaceX launched astronauts from US soil for the first time in a decade. Now, the aerospace company has achieved a huge, new milestone: a successful test flight of its “Starship” prototype. And while, yes, the prototype did explode upon landing, the fact it could even make it to that point is a great sign.
NASA Spaceflight streamed the test flight—which took place in Cameron County, Texas—on its YouTube channel. The complete video, above, shows how the rocket, dubbed SN8 for Serial Number 8, completed a key series of testing events. This included lift-off from the launch pad, successful ascension and transition to propellant, and, of course, a flawless flip maneuver.
That flip maneuver, isolated in the clip below, allowed Starship to right itself just before landing. This is a key maneuver for the rocket’s ability to land itself. Despite the subsequent explosion, SN8 nailed it. Maybe soon, SpaceX will even feel it’s safe enough to send up another Baby Yoda.
Starship landing flip maneuver pic.twitter.com/QuD9HwZ9CX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 10, 2020
The prototype rocket is only one part of what will ultimately be a gargantuan two-stage Starship system. The actual reusable rocket, what’s being tested here, is 160 feet tall. But the entire system will be 394 feet tall. For reference: Saturn V, the rocket that carried astronauts to the Moon, was 363 feet tall.
This incomplete prototype utilized three of SpaceX’s proprietary “Raptor” rocket engines. The Raptors are methane-fueled engines—as opposed to kerosene-fueled, which the company used previously—specifically developed in conjunction with Starship. SN8 only had three, but the real, reusable Starship will have six on its own, and 28 on its booster. (The bottom part that’ll help launch the rocket into orbit.)
Incidentally, the green glow that appears in the rocket’s exhaust plume just prior to touchdown is due to its engines restarting. The engines use triethylborane (TEB) to ignite the fuel, which results in the alien color.
Moving forward, SpaceX says it’s already onto Starship SN9. This next iteration will obviously include countless changes, including an entirely steel body. Plus, next year, we’ll likely all be able to see the complete 394-foot-tall system in action. Any explosions at that point would not be a good thing, however.
Feature image: NASASpaceflight