SpaceX is working towards developing a Starship launch vehicle to enable humanity to colonize Mars. The aerospace company is testing prototypes of the spacecraft in a small beach village located in the southernmost tip of Texas along the border with Mexico. Multiple gigantic stainless steel Starship vehicles have performed flight tests above Boca Chica Beach. The most recent test was a high-altitude flight performed by a prototype called Starship SN9 (Serial Number 9). The vehicle lifted off approximately 10-kilometers-high above the sandy beach on February 2nd. Starship SN9 propelled with a trio of methane-fueled Raptor engines. SN9 took a similar flight path as its predecessor, the vehicle conducted an aerodynamic flight and landing flip maneuver. The flight lasted around six minutes as spectators along South Padre Island coast watched in awe. Starship SN9's flight was going well up to when the vehicle attempted a propulsive landing but one of its engines failed to relight upon descent causing SN9 to land at high speed, ending the test flight with a gigantic explosion. A TESMANIAN correspondent attended the launch, video of Starship SN9’s Flight Test shown below.
It is not the first time SpaceX blows up a prototype, SN8 had the same fate. However, it is important to note the spacecraft is in its initial phase of development and explosions are expected. Each test offers engineers valuable data towards improving the launch vehicle. The explosion prompted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate. Besides coordinating air traffic, the administration also conducts environmental and safety reviews to ensure safe spaceflight operations. “The FAA closed the investigation of the February 2 SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype mishap today, clearing the way for the SN10 test flight pending FAA approval of license updates,” the Administration said, according to journalist Jackie Wattles who shared via Twitter. “The FAA provided oversight of the SN9 mishap investigation conducted by SpaceX. The SN9 vehicle failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis. Its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property,” they wrote.
"The FAA provided oversight of the SN9 mishap investigation conducted by SpaceX. The SN9 vehicle failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis. Its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property." (2/4)— Jackie Wattles (@jackiewattles) February 19, 2021
“Important context: The SN9 investigation was a fairly routine investigation carried out when a mishap occurs during a rocket's reentry. The FAA is also overseeing an investigation into the loss of the F9 booster on Monday, for example, as they have for prior booster losses,” Wattles stated. “Those investigations are different than the investigation carried out into the SN8 launch license violation. SpaceX violated its license by moving forward with the test flight before proposed updates to its license had been approved. That matter has since been settled,” she said.
The investigation completion clears path for SpaceX to launch the next Starship prototype – SN10 – at Boca Chica Beach (pictured above). Starship SN10 is expected to replicate SN8 and SN9’s flight path. The weather conditions in South Texas improved after the Arctic blast that caused freezing conditions in the area. Now, SpaceX will conduct a static-fire test of SN10’s Raptor engines sometime next week. According to Cameron County Boca Chica Beach road closure announcements, SpaceX could perform this crucial engine test as soon as Monday, February 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Time. Back-up test opportunities are also scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday at the same time. You can watch SpaceX operations Live in the video below, courtesy of LabPadre via YouTube.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.