SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype, SN11, took to the skies over Texas on Tuesday morning (March 30), following a 24-hour delay.
That wasn’t the first delay for the test. On Friday (March 25), SpaceX hoped to conduct the test flight after changing out one of the craft’s three Raptor engines. Ultimately the test was moved to Monday and then finally happened early Tuesday morning, when the Starship SN11 rocket blasted off from SpaceX’s Starbase test site near Boca Chica Village in South Texas at 8:00 a.m. local time (9:00 a.m. EDT, 1300 GMT).
The rocket soared to an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) before beginning the landing procedure. But at nearly six minutes into the flight, SpaceX’s broadcast cameras cut out. “Looks like we’ve had another exciting test of Starship Number 11,” John Insprucker, launch commentator for SpaceX, said during the broadcast. “Starship 11 is not coming back, do not wait for the landing.”
Like its predecessors, SN11 did not survive its brief flight, exploding during the test, although the foggy conditions in Boca Chica made it difficult to see.
The FAA opened an investigation after the SN10 explosion, saying in a statement to CNBC “that issues related to the FAA mishap had no effect on public safety.” The FAA approved modifications to SpaceX’s launch license for SN11, with the company then authorized to conduct its next flight test.
Like its predecessors’ flights, the goal of the SN11 launch is not necessarily to reach the maximum altitude, but rather to test several key parts of the Starship system. The Starship prototype stands at about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and is powered by three Raptor rocket engines. SpaceX will fire all three engines for liftoff and then shut them down one at a time in sequence as it nears the top of the flight’s intended altitude.
SN11 will aim to transfer propellant from its main tanks to the header tanks, and then flip itself for the “belly flop” reentry manoeuvre so it can control its descent through the air with the rocket’s four flaps. Then, in the final moments of descent, SpaceX will flip return the rocket to a vertical orientation and fire the Raptor engines to slow itself down for a landing attempt.
Notably, SN11 launching on Friday would mark 24 days since SN10 flew, cutting nearly a week off the previous turnaround time as SpaceX ramps up manufacturing in Texas.
Starship is one of two “Manhattan Projects” that SpaceX is simultaneously developing, with the other being its Starlink satellite internet program. Musk has previously estimated that it will cost about $5 billion to fully develop Starship, although SpaceX has not disclosed how much it has spent on the program to date.
The company last month brought in $850 million in its latest capital fundraise at a $74 billion valuation.
Musk remains “highly confident” that Starship “will be safe enough for human transport by 2023″ – an ambitious goal given the company began the rocket’s development and testing in earnest in early 2019.
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