This video replay shot from South Padre Island shows SpaceX’s Starship SN8 prototype rocket taking off from Boca Chica, Texas, climbing high into the atmosphere, then gliding back to a fiery crash landing after an otherwise successful test flight.
The nearly seven-minute experimental flight Wednesday began with liftoff at 4:45 p.m. CST (5:45 p.m. EST; 2245 GMT) powered by three Raptor engines. The Raptor engines generated more than a million pounds of thrust at full throttle, guzzling a super-chilled mixture of methane and liquid oxygen.
Designed for vertical takeoffs and vertical landings, the Starship is part of a giant new rocket SpaceX says will carry more than 100 tons of cargo into space per mission, and as many as 100 people on expeditions to Mars.
The test flight targeted an altitude of 41,000 feet, or 12.5 kilometers, higher than most commercial airliners fly.
One of the Raptor engines shut down a little more than a minute-and-a-half into the flight, followed by cutoff of a second engine more than three minutes after liftoff. The remaining engine switched off at about T+plus 4 minutes, 40 seconds, and the Starship’s thrusters and control flaps put the rocket in a horizontal “belly flop” orientation for the descent back to the ground.
Video credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Local residents and space enthusiasts watching the flight in person let out cheers as the rocket took off, then again as it began its fall back to Earth.
In a mesmerizing scene, the rocket appeared to glide through the atmosphere, appearing like a shining airship from an earlier era of flight.
Seconds before reaching the ground, two of the Starship’s Raptor engines reignited and vectored their thrust as the rocket’s control surfaces flexed to quickly flip the rocket into a vertical position for landing.
The stainless-steel rocket’s guidance system appeared to steer the Starship over its landing pad, just east of where the vehicle took off to begin the test flight. One of the engines appeared to shut down moments later, with a flash of green in the rocket’s exhaust plume.
The 30-foot (9-meter) wide Starship — wider than the fuselage of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet — settled onto the landing pad at high speed, and the rocket erupted in a giant fireball. When the smoke cleared, the landing site was littered with mangled metallic debris, while text appeared on SpaceX’s official live stream saying “Awesome test. Congrats Starship team!”
Read our full story on the test flight for additional details.
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