Thursday, December 10, 2020

SpaceX Launches—and Crashes—Its Starship Mars Rocket

The test flight didn’t come close to the edge of space, but the prototype was a big step toward the rocket’s first orbital mission. Photograph: Gene Blevins/Reuters

Daniel Oberhaus

On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched—and nearly landed—a fully-assembled prototype of its next generation Starship rocket on a suborbital flight from its facility in south Texas. This is the rocket that Elon Musk hopes will soon carry humans to the moon and, eventually, to Mars, but Wednesday’s launch was an uncrewed test flight that lasted just a few minutes. The rocket flew to an altitude of 40,000 feet—roughly the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner—and performed what Musk has called a “belly flop” maneuver on its way back to earth. The rocket executed a controlled descent to the surface and righted itself just a few hundred feet above the ground. But it wasn’t able to slow its descent enough to safely touch down, and it exploded spectacularly near the landing pad. While the rocket made it only about a tenth of the way to space and didn’t survive the landing attempt, it’s still a major step toward a first orbital mission and a big win for Musk’s interplanetary ambitions.  Read more >>