If it exploded last time, try, try again. They did, and it exploded again.
On Tuesday, a test flight of SpaceX’s Starship, a huge next-generation spacecraft that Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of the private rocket company, dreams of one day sending to Mars, came to an explosive end.
That brief flight, to an altitude of about 6 miles and then back to a landing pad, appeared to again demonstrate how the mammoth rocket would tip over on its side as it descended in a controlled belly flop back toward a landing.
But when the prototype fired its engines to right itself back to a vertical orientation, it appeared that one engine did not properly ignite, and Starship hit the ground at an angle, disintegrating in a fireball, leaving a cloud of smoke rising over the test site, which is in Boca Chica, Texas, near Brownsville.
“We’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit,” said John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer hosting a webcast of the test.
On Tuesday evening, the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates rocket launches, announced that it will oversee an investigation of why the prototype crashed.
For this launch, SpaceX at least had the permission of the FAA.
Last week, SpaceX had filled the propellant tanks of this prototype of Starship – its ninth one – and looked ready to launch. But then the rocket stayed on the ground when no approval from the FAA arrived.
Late on Monday, the FAA gave permission for Tuesday’s launch, but then revealed that the December launch had occurred without the agency’s approval. SpaceX had requested a waiver to conduct that flight even though it had not shown that a pressure wave that could be generated by an explosion during the test would not pose a danger to the public. The FAA denied the request. SpaceX defied the ruling and launched anyway.
“The FAA required SpaceX to conduct an investigation of the incident, including a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline,” an agency spokesman said in a statement released Tuesday evening.
SpaceX was also told to halt testing until the company made changes that satisfied the agency. The FAA said the resulting changes improved safety and were incorporated into Tuesday’s launch.
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