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Almost perfect on the third attempt: SpaceX Starship lands gently, but explodes minutes later

It couldn’t be more exciting. During the third high test flight, a Starship prototype from SpaceX, the space company of Tesla boss Elon Musk, landed for the first time. SN10 took off shortly after midnight German time on Thursday from the test site in Boca Chica and climbed exemplary to the planned 10 km altitude. The “belly flop”, the turning into the side position, as well as the aerodynamic control and stabilization during the descent also looked good. Then the three Raptor engines re-ignited and brought the Starship into a vertical position. Two engines switched off one after the other and for the last ten seconds the steel colossus danced on the beam of a raptor and landed gently and precisely, albeit a little crooked, on the improved landing platform. This ended the SpaceX broadcast of the hitherto full success. But a good eight minutes later there was a bang: the rocket was thrown a little into the air and broke seconds later on the ground.

Starship landing in one piece

Hours later, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Musk tweeted with satisfaction: “Landing in one piece”. Correct analysis, progress. The soft landing is the key to Starship deployments on the Moon, Mars and also on Earth. But immediately after the soft landing, a fire burned at the base of the prototype. The fire extinguishing systems quickly brought it under control, at the same time methane appeared to be leaking from a leak in the Starship.

When the extinguishing water is turned off, the methane ignites. Apparently not outside, but inside the rocket, in connection with oxygen from the oxygen tank. The explosion suddenly throws the missile upwards and disintegrates on impact. It is now speculated why the leak that led to the mission’s final blemish came about. Many think the landing was a little too hard again, causing a leak or damage to the interior.

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The official error analysis by SpaceX is ongoing. It remains to be seen whether in the future an even better control of the Raptor engines during landing or improved landing legs, which dampen the touchdown better, will solve the problem of the SN10.

SpaceX responded to previous problems

With the SN10, SpacxeX has already learned from the crash landings of the predecessors SN8 and SN9: After the pressure and thrust drop at SN8 in December, the pressure generation using helium was successfully used this time. And after one of the two required engines at SN9 failed shortly before landing in February, this time the SN10 activated all three engines.

After all three were running correctly, the missile switched off one again – and shortly afterwards a second. Musk himself announced this plan at the beginning of February (“we were too stupid”). However, at that time there was talk of a landing on two engines, with the SN10 the landing was now ultimately on one.

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