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SpaceX lands Starship SN10 rocket after a high-altitude flight test

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The SN10 spacecraft prototype returns for a soft landing on a concrete slab at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX

SpaceX’s spaceship prototype exploded for the first time shortly after landing after a high-altitude flight test on Wednesday.

The cause of the explosion, or whether it was intentional, was not immediately clear. Elon Musk alternatively refers to explosions as “RUDs” or “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”.

The company test flew with the Starship rocket Serial Number 10 or SN10. SpaceX wanted to launch the prototype to an altitude of 10 kilometers or an altitude of 32,800 feet. There were no passengers on board the rocket as it is a development vehicle and flies autonomously.

The SN10 flight was similar to SpaceX’s December and February when it tested the SN8 and SN9 prototypes. Both earlier missiles served multiple development goals – including testing aerodynamics, turning off the engines one at a time, and turning them around to align for landing – but both prototypes exploded on impact when attempting to land and couldn’t slow down enough.

As with the SN8 and SN9, the goal of the SN10 flight was not necessarily to reach the maximum altitude, but rather to test several important parts of the spacecraft system. SpaceX fired all three engines to take off, then shut them off one by one as the rocket neared its intended altitude.

SN10 then transferred propellant from the main tanks to the collection tanks before turning for the “belly flop” re-entry maneuver – which allows it to descend through the air in a controlled manner using the missile’s four flaps. In the final moments of the descent, SpaceX turned the rocket over and brought it back into a vertical orientation. The Raptor engines were fired to slow down for landing.

The spacecraft SN10 ignites its three engines and turns around before landing.

SpaceX

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Robert Dunfee