SpaceX’s SN15 Starship Prototype Nails It!

On the afternoon of May 5th, 2021, at 05:24 PM local time, SpaceX made its fifth attempt at a high-altitude test flight and soft landing with a Starship prototype. Given the outcomes of the previous test, this event had many people on the edge of their seats. In all four attempts, the prototypes managed to reach their maximum altitude and pull off the bellyflop maneuver, but then exploded during landing (or shortly thereafter).

Would the fifteenth iteration of the Starship prototype (SN15) succeed where the others had failed? As of 05:30 P.M. local time (06:30 P.M. EDT; 03:30 P.M. PDT), the answer to that question is, “WITH GUSTO!” On their fifth attempt, the SN15 not only managed to reach its target altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi) and pull off the belly-flop and controlled descent, it also stuck the landing and suffered no mishaps afterward.

In other words, COMPLETE SUCCESS!

Continue reading “SpaceX’s SN15 Starship Prototype Nails It!”

What if Starship Didn’t Do a Landing Burn at All?

Thanks to Musk’s preference for sharing his ideas directly with the public, SpaceX is inundated with all kinds of proposals from citizen scientists and space-exploration enthusiasts – some of which are practical and some outlandish. This latest proposal definitely straddles these two categories! In an animation shared via Twitter, 3D digital artist Nick Henning offered an alternative vision for a SpaceX tower that could “catch” the Super Heavy.

Continue reading “What if Starship Didn’t Do a Landing Burn at All?”

Latest Starship Prototype SN11 Explodes in mid-air, Raining Debris on the Launch Site

Space exploration sure is hard, huh? Luckily, it’s an iterative process, where engineers test and test and test again to work out all the bugs in advance. At least, that’s what we remind ourselves when the prototype goes “kaboom!” Earlier today, the SN11 joins its predecessors by being the fourth Starship prototype to conduct a successful flight test and then explode while attempting to make a landing (or shortly thereafter).

Continue reading “Latest Starship Prototype SN11 Explodes in mid-air, Raining Debris on the Launch Site”

Fantastic Analysis of SN-10 Landing and Explosion by Scott Manley

Update: Yesterday (March 9th), Elon Musk shared the reason for the explosion via Twitter. According to Musk, the problem originated with the one Raptor engine used to slow the SN10 down before landing.

“SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank,” he tweeted. “Impact of 10m/s crushed legs & part of skirt. Multiple fixes in work for SN11.

On March 3rd, 2021, SpaceX conducted a third high-altitude flight test with one of their Starship prototypes (SN10). This time around, the prototype managed to achieve an apogee of 10 km (6.2 mi), a controlled descent relying on nothing but its aerodynamic surfaces (the “belly-flop”), and even managed to land successfully. However, a few minutes after it stuck the landing, the SN10 exploded on the landing pad.

Whereas the SN8 and SN9 explosions were attributed to problems that took place during engine reignition, the cause of the SN10 explosion was not as clear. Thankfully, astrophysicist and Youtube personality Scott Manley (Twitter handle @DJSnM) has offered his take on what might have caused it. Using SpaceX’s footage of the SN10 flight test, he suggests that a slightly-harder-than-intended landing and a fuel tank rupture were responsible.

Continue reading “Fantastic Analysis of SN-10 Landing and Explosion by Scott Manley”

SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Flies High AND Sticks the Landing!

They say, “third time’s the charm.” This was largely the case today as SpaceX made their third attempt at a high altitude flight test at their launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Like the previous two attempts, this flight saw a Starship prototype (SN10) with three Raptor engines fly to an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi), conduct a “belly-flop” descent maneuver, and then return to the launch facility.

As with the previous high-altitude tests, the SN10 successfully launched, reached its apogee, and validated the control fins and aerodynamic surfaces. But unlike the previous tests, the SN10 was able to slow down enough and keep itself upright so it could make a soft landing. While the prototype exploded a few minutes after landing (apparently from a methane leak) the flight was a complete success!

Continue reading “SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Flies High AND Sticks the Landing!”

SN9 Tests Ends With a Boom. You’re Up SN10

Another day, another round of testing (and yes, another explosion). Today, on Tuesday, Feb. 2nd, 2021, flight teams at SpaceX’s launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas, conducted a high-altitude test flight with a Starship prototype. Similar to the previous test in December, the SN9 was powered by three Raptor engines, flew to an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi), then attempted another “belly flop” to test out its fins and aerodynamic surfaces.

As always, the event was broadcast via live stream by SpaceX, NASASpaceFlight, LabPadre, and several other observers. Like the SN8 test flight, SpaceX’s coverage provided multiple vantage points (landing pad, engine compartment, fuselage, aerial drone, etc.) The flight commenced at 2:25:15 P.M. CST (04:25:15 EST; 12:25:15 PST) when the Starship ignited its three engines and began its ascent.

Continue reading “SN9 Tests Ends With a Boom. You’re Up SN10”

Big News for SpaceX: Static Fire Today, Hop Test This Weekend?

For years, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has talked about what he will do once his company’s super heavy-lift launch system is finally ready to go! While tidbits of information were shared between 2011 and 2015, it was not until September of 2017 that Musk began to share detailed plans for this system. By 2018, Musk announced that work on the Starship and Super-Heavy (formerly known as the BFR) was underway.

In the past year, progress on the Starship has advanced by leaps and bounds (despite a few explosions). This reached a high point on Dec. 9th, 2020, when the SN8 prototype conducted a hop test where it reached an altitude of 12.5 km (7.8 mi) and did a “belly-flop” on the way down. According to recent indications, the SN9 may be making a hop test by the end of this week!

Continue reading “Big News for SpaceX: Static Fire Today, Hop Test This Weekend?”

Elon Musk Shares a View of Starship With Three Raptor Engines Installed

SpaceX has been very busy lately with the development of its Starship prototypes. Based on recent activity at its Boca Chica facility, and recent images provided by Musk himself, it looks like they are about ready to make their biggest leap yet. Yesterday, on Oct. 14th, Musk announced that the eighth prototype of the Starship (SN8) has received the three Raptor engines it will use to make its planned 15.25 km (50,000 ft).

Continue reading “Elon Musk Shares a View of Starship With Three Raptor Engines Installed”

Another Starship Test Tank is Pushed to the Limit and Explodes

They say that failure can be the greatest teacher of all, and it’s easy to see why. Those who learn from their mistakes become informed as to what can go wrong, and will develop the necessary strategies to avoid making the same mistake in the future. This philosophy is also at the core of SpaceX rapid-prototyping process, where full-scale models of the Starship and its components are tested to the point of failure.

At Boca Chica, SpaceX ground crews continue to follow this process in order to get the Starship ready for orbital testing. The latest piece of hardware that was tested to failure was the SN7.1 Test Tank, which was pressurized until it exploded. This test took place a week ago (on the evening of September 23rd) shortly after the SN5 and SN6 prototypes both completed a 150 m (~500 ft) hop test.

Continue reading “Another Starship Test Tank is Pushed to the Limit and Explodes”

SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Nails Another Hop Test! Bring on Orbital Flights!

SpaceX has done it again! Earlier today (Thurs. Sept. 3rd), the company completed a second hop test with a Starship prototype. This time, it was the sixth iteration (SN6) that successfully made the 150-meter (~500 foot) flight at their launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas. This latest test has further validated the Starship design and the Raptor engine, two systems which Musk hopes will someday take humans to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond!

Continue reading “SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Nails Another Hop Test! Bring on Orbital Flights!”