Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Feb. 3—A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded in a test flight just before landing on Tuesday. The explosion occurred minutes after the experimental launch at Boca Chica, Texas.
The SN9 rocket was a test model of the heavy-duty rocket being developed by Elon Musk’s company to carry humans and cargo into space. SN8, the model before it, had also met a similar fate during a test launch in December. No injuries occurred in either incident.
SpaceX’s live stream covered a 16-story-tall SN9 taking a flawless liftoff from the Gulf Coast in South Texas. The spacecraft hovered in midair at an altitude of 10 km before shutting off its engines for planned “belly-flop” execution.
While landing, the Starship tried to reactivate two of its three Raptor thrusters but failed to ignite one. The rocket then fell, exploding into a ball of flames, smoke, and debris — 6 minutes and 26 seconds after launch.
There was no immediate comment from Musk, who also heads the electric carmaker Tesla Inc. Hours earlier, he tweeted about staying off social media platform “for a while.”
A SpaceX commentator, after the live stream, said that the test altitude “looked very good and stable, like we saw last December. We just have to work on that landing a little bit.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will investigate Tuesday’s mishap despite the tensions with Musk — from the previous inquiry. SpaceX conducted December’s launch “without demonstrating” public safety measures, according to the FAA. But “corrective actions” the company later took were approved and incorporated into Tuesday’s launch.
Musk expressed his disagreement over the agencies’ broken structure. In his tweet, he said, “FAA’s space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that “humanity will never get to Mars under its rules.
The complete Starship rocket, with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is the company’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle — planned for year’s end.
Musk aims to make human space travel more affordable and systematic. He intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023.
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