Elon Musk’s latest endeavor, a rocket destined for Mars, underwent its first test-run as a prototype on Wednesday, December 9. In its first (and last) flight, the sixteen-story rocket had a successful lift-off over southern Texas, but approached the ground too quickly and exploded upon impact. The project is part of Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, which has been in the works for well over a year. The rocket itself, called Starship SN8 or Serial No. 8, took off at 4:45 CT and remained in the air for 6 minutes and 42 seconds before meeting its demise. Equipped with a robotic tracking device, footage shared through Twitter shows the rocket careening through the air into a pseudo-bellyflop, then righting itself with thrusters designed to decrease the rocket’s speed. In the final moments of descent, however, the re-ignition mechanics malfunction and fail to slow the rocket down properly. Business Insider mentions speculation that the malfunction was rooted in “an internal fuel tank losing adequate pressure to rapidly force fuel through the engines.” The last few seconds show the ripple effect as the base and fuel tanks erupt in a grand explosion.
Even so, Musk and his colleagues considered the run a success, due to their previous failed attempts. “AWESOME TEST. CONGRATS STARSHIP TEAM!” shared SpaceX, while showing coverage of the disintegrating remains. Earlier trials barely left the ground, often falling apart in the first test runs. In 2019, SN5 and SN6 completed successful 40-second “hops” to the test landing gear and engines. Soon, Musk aims to leave behind sub-orbital flights and focus attention on the behemoth, 23-story rocket booster “Super Heavy” which aid the rocket in reaching orbit. Yet, future attempts at flight may be hindered by the Federal Aviation Association’s new environmental analysis, which could delay test runs towards orbit anywhere from a few months to a few years. Nevertheless, the next prototype SN9 is already preparing for lift-off at a facility nearby the launch site. “SN9 is going to happen. And fast,” says Eric Berger, a senior space editor at technology news site, Ars Technica.
Naturally, landing a mere vehicle on Mars is not new to the public: there have been eight successful Mars landings already, beginning in 1976. America has seen rovers Viking 1 and 2, Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity, Phoenix, Curiosity, and InSight set course to explore the mysterious red planet. In fact, many students might recall the devastating death of Opportunity in early 2019, surviving since 2004 on the surface of Mar’s unforgiving atmosphere and collecting evidence of water, clouds, and meteorites. Instead, Musk’s efforts intend to send the first people to Mars by 2026.
Click the link below for the full video of SN8’s disastrously successful flight: