After days of delays and postponements that tested the patience of those of us waiting breathlessly on the edge of our seats, SpaceX conducted the first (and last) high-altitude test of its SN8 Starship prototype yesterday. Despite going out in a fiery blaze of glory due to insufficient fuel tank pressure at landing, in what many in the rocket business like to call “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”, SN8 appears to have done a spectacular job of each of its test-flight tasks up to that point, in what I would consider a thrilling and encouraging series of successes.
Robert Zimmerman has a great post with lots of snapshots at Behind the Black, and points out, importantly, that “the systems for controlling the ship on its return through the atmosphere appeared to work as intended. Though SpaceX obviously has a lot more work to do to achieve an orbital return, they have made a magnificent start.” He continues: “And they have gotten this far in only two years, for less than $2 billion. Compare that to NASA and Boeing and their SLS, which is half a decade behind schedule and will likely cost $30 billion once launched.” SpaceX appears to be well on the way to its goal of revolutionizing the economics interplanetary transport, paving the way for rapid acceleration toward the opening of a new frontier on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere.
Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc has a play-by-play with screen grabs too.
Here’s SpaceX’s official livestream of the test, fast-forwarded to just before engine ignition & launch. Note the beautifully steady ascent, paring back from three Raptor engines firing in unison to two and then one, the controlled free-fall in horizontal orientation, the engine relight and reorient to vertical, and what would likely have been a perfect landing if not for just a wee bit of excess velocity… Note also the green flashes from one of the engine nozzles during the landing attempt, which I’d have guessed might be a burst of TEB attempting to ignite the engine in vain, but John Carmack (who has earned his rocket-scientist chops running Armadillo Aerospace) remarked “is the color of a copper rocket combustion chamber eating itself”.
Don’t miss this spectacular perspective on the free-fall, flip back to vertical, and landing attempt that SpaceX posted shortly afterward.
LabPadre’s YouTube channel deserves a plug for their excellent, practically round-the-clock streaming of Starship progress at SpaceX’s Boca Chica site. Here’s their recap of the launch. Long live the “Nerdle Cam”!
“Mars, here we come!!”, a surely elated Elon Musk tweeted after the spectacular test. Indeed. Ad astra!