SpaceX's Starship SN9 successfully lifted off from the company's Boca Chica base at 2:25 PM EST and climbed to an altitude of roughly 6.2 miles (10 km) — after which it flipped, descended, but then crashed magnificently upon impact in a historic second Starship explosion, according to a video from the company shared on YouTube.
SpaceX's Starship SN9 lifts off, flips, explodes like SN8
Starship SN9 received a "Go" for its test flight on Tuesday, after a relatively short schedule delay. But a stalled production cadence has increased pressure to launch — as SN10, the next Starship — rolled out next to its predecessor last week.
This was the SN9 Starship's first (and last) test launch — along with the first-ever double-prototype pad flow.
Starship SN9 makes a 'hard' landing
The Starship SN9 vehicle appeared to make a perfect descent after lifting off on Tuesday afternoon from SpaceX's Boca Chica base. But once it performed a "flip" to reorient its Raptor rockets downwards, something appeared to come loose — possibly a part of or an entire Raptor rocket — which left the vehicle with insufficient thrust to slow its velocity for a soft landing.
When the Starship SN9 returned to the Earth, it made what's called a "hard" landing.
Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2021
Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk criticizes FAA for scrubbed launches
However, this isn't necessarily a failure. Although it ultimately exploded on impact, Starship SN9 has provided SpaceX engineers with valuable data with which to improve on the next prototype launch — when SN10 will take to the skies. Let's hope it doesn't know.
The SN9 was ready to launch last week, but had to wait for FAA clearance — without which SpaceX scrubbed launches earlier this week. The company's CEO Elon Musk criticized this move, saying: "Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure."
"Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities," said Musk in a tweet. "Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars."
FAA streamlining approval, and much yet to come of SpaceX
However, according to a report from NASASpaceFlight.com, Musk's criticisms will likely not affect the FAA's decision-making process. In fact, improvements to administrative flow may already be underway, according to a tweet from Space News.
This means FAA may already be on its way to a more streamlined approval process — regardless of Elon Musk's tweets.
"The FAA determined late Monday (Feb. 1) that SpaceX complies with all safety and related federal regulations and is authorized to conduct Starship SN9 operations in accordance with its launch license," read a statement from the FAA sent to NASASpaceflight.com.
While SpaceX's SN9 mission wasn't a complete success, there's still much to come from the aerospace company. CEO Elon Musk recently became the richest person in the world — which at the very least means his company isn't out of money. But most notable about this launch was the presence of SN9's successor prototype — the SN10, a short walk away from the glorious inferno.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.