Two days after the recent crash landing of a Starship prototype, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk had an unflattering explanation for the explosive end of the otherwise successful test: “We were too stupid,” he wrote frankly after the Starship SN9, like its predecessor SN8 exploded when it came back up in December. Two of the three Raptor engines should have slowed down the Mars flight prototype after its test flight to an altitude of ten kilometers for a soft landing, but only one worked – and the steel colossus hit the floor of the SpaceX test site in Boca Chica, Texas, at around 200 kilometers per hour on.
3 engines active instead of 2 in future?
Looking at the later Musk message on Twitter, some observers thought at first that it was not meant seriously. But a few hours later, the boss of Tesla and SpaceX made it clear that he had meant them exactly that way: It was “stupid” (foolish) not to ignite all three engines for the landing maneuver and, if all are running well, turn one of them off again immediately. If all three hadn’t worked fine, SpaceX could have picked the two that work well.
When a Twitter user asked why you don’t activate all three engines for landing and then throttle them together, Musk replied: You can’t turn down the power of the engines at will, because from a certain point there is the risk of a flare, he explained .
In any case, the Starship test program will continue. The next prototype, called the Starship SN10, had been installed before the SN9 flight. It is now ready for an engine test and test flight, maybe this February. It is not yet certain whether the new approach of igniting three engines and switching one off again on landing will then be tried out, but it is likely. SN11 is also largely completed, but still in the assembly building. According to nasaspaceflight.com, work is already underway there on further prototypes up to the SN18 and on the first two “Super Heavy” boosters that the Starship will later need for flights to the moon and Mars.
Musk sees a solution to the landing problem
Basically, for Musk, there is still no question that Starship should land vertically using finely controlled engines, as previously the Falcon 9 rockets from SpaceX. There is a clear solution for this, he wrote after his brief self-flagellation on Twitter. He is more concerned about how to get enough payload into space per launch and then quickly and completely reuse the rocket used.