First-of-its-kind: SpaceX SN8 makes successful test flight

THC marker at tome.

“Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!! ”was SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s response not long after the explosive crash landing of SN8 following a successful launch to 41,000 feet and never-before-attempted “belly flop” descent with engines off.

It appeared from SN8’s engine bay camera that only two of the craft’s three engines re-ignited for touchdown, then one engine went out leaving just one for an attempted soft landing, which could explain the extra hard landing. The historic flight took place at SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, 21.5 miles east of Brownsville as the crow flies. Nevertheless, from Musk’s perspective, the test was a success.

Musk tweeted after the flight that “Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! … Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!”

SN8 was the first multi-engine Starship prototype for the spaceship SpaceX intends to use to carry humans to Mars someday. The three previous prototypes SpaceX has flown from Boca Chica were fitted with a single Raptor engine and flew no higher than 500 feet.

Hundreds of thousands of viewers from around the world were glued to live feeds provided by SpaceX itself, LabPadre locally, and a number of others in anticipation of the launch.

The rocket could be seen clearly from Brownsville looking to the northeast, during a flight that lasted 6 minutes and 42 seconds.

Musk had given the first-of-its-kind test flight a one-in-three chance of success.

Once repairs are made to the launch pad, now charred and littered with shrapnel that was formerly SN8, it’s likely the next high-altitude test flight will take place soon using SN9, which is already completed in SpaceX’s Starship Production Complex. SN10 and SN11 are also complete or nearing completion.

“Mars, here we come!!” Musk tweeted after Wednesday’s flight.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com