SpaceX Successfully Launched Starship SN8, Exploded on Landing

SpaceX's Starship prototype flew to the upper atmosphere and exploded upon landing.
Brad Bergan

SpaceX successfully retried its Starship SN8 launch debut — which blasted off from the company's Boca Chica, Texas base on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at roughly 5:45 PM EST.

On its way down, the Starship vehicle performed an aerial flip, but then exploded in glorious fire upon impacting the Earth.

Nevertheless, this still marks a major leap forward for SpaceX's forthcoming legacy vehicle — designed to eventually take humans to Mars, for the first time.

The launch was streamed live on SpaceX's YouTube channel (featured below).


UPDATE Dec. 9, 6:00 PM EST: SpaceX's Starship fuel tank pressure was low, 'SN9 up next! Mars, here we come!!!'

SpaceX's Starship SN8 successfully launched at roughly 5:45 PM EST, performing an aerial flip in the upper atmosphere of Earth. But during its descent and landing burn, things weren't quite up to snuff.

"Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed!" tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "Congrats SpaceX!"

To be clear, this test launch debut only had a one-in-three chance of total success. But even with the explosive landing, SpaceX gathered all of the data needed to consider this a substantial step forward.

"Mars, here we come!!!" read another tweet from Musk, affirming the launch debut as a win.

SpaceX Starship Exploding
The Starship SN8 landed where it was supposed to, but way too fast. Source: SpaceX / YouTube

SpaceX successfully launches, explodes Starship SN8

SpaceX launched its Starship prototype vehicle on Wednesday afternoon from the company's South Texas Launch Site. The vehicle successfully reached the upper atmosphere, peformed an aerial flip, and even maintained a vertical profile on descent. But it hadn't slowed down enough to avoid impacting the landing pad in an explosive, colossal fireball.

This was the first time SpaceX flew Starship at a high altitude — with a maximum planned altitude of roughly 41,000 ft (12.5 km).

Earlier test flights have only taken Starship prototype vehicles roughly 492 ft (150 m) high — but these did not have the nose cone, flaps, or other signature features required to control the vehicle's flight in the thin air of the upper atmosphere.

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Doing so is a difficult task, since the gigantic vehicle stands more than 164 ft (50 m) tall, with a wide body.

SpaceX's long road to Starship launch debut, Tuesday's auto-abort

The launch countdown initially paused at T-minus 2 minutes, 6 seconds as the world waited for a new estimation of launch time.

On Tuesday, SpaceX came within 1.3 seconds of launching the SN8 prototype, when the Raptor engines auto-aborted for as-of-yet unclear reasons. Tuesday's auto-abort may have to do with a temperature or pressure reading exceeding acceptable levels, but neither is confirmed.

To watch a two-minute video of SN8's aerial flip click here.

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