SpaceX Test Ends in Massive Explosion
On December 9, private spaceflight company Spacex tested a prototype of their Starship rocket. The unmanned stainless steel rocket flew to a height of around eight miles before shutting off its engines and using small wings to free-fall back to the launchpad. At the last moment, the 165 foot tall rocket re-activated its engines, flipped around, and slowed itself down for a landing on the launchpad. Unfortunately, the rocket was not able to slow down in time and exploded in a massive fireball upon contact with the ground.
The prototype tested today is the eighth prototype of the Starship rocket, which is designed to get humans to Mars, as well as a cheap way to get satellites and other man-made objects into orbit. The finished rocket is supposed to be the largest-ever built, even larger than the massive Saturn V that got humans to the moon back in the 60s. Starship is key to Elon Musk’s (CEO of Spacex and Tesla) grand plan of sending a crew to Mars in 2024.
While this test may have had a rather dramatic ending, it is still a success in many ways. It proved some of the most important elements of Starship to be possible, namely the ability to control where the rocket landed using small wings (also called flaps), the capacity to turn upright rapidly before landing, and testing the performance of the engines. Keep in mind that Spacex’s last rocket, the Falcon 9, had to undergo many tests and failed landings before successfully landing back on earth, the first rocket to ever do so. Failures like this are standard and crucial in the development of a new technology so the rocket is as safe as possible when there are actual humans in it.
This test is the beginning of what could be a very exciting era for space exploration, possibly allowing humans to go further into space than they ever have before.