Elon Musk of SpaceX has long dreamed of sending people to Mars and exploring space beyond planet Earth. On Wednesday, a test of a giant prototype of the rocket, built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, successfully soared eight miles above the companies testing facilities before crashing down in an enormous plume of smoke and fire.
The rocket was part of the early-stage development of a model, Starship, an Interplanetary Transport System, which was being tested in South Texas.
This hulking giant of a rocket at 160 – foot – a tall spaceship that Musk hopes will one day be used for carrying massive satellites into Earth’s orbit.
The experimental rocket successfully soared above the testing facilities and came back down as planned but a tad too fast; on touchdown, it broke into a ball of fire.
The rocket is also part of Musk’s vision of shuttling people between cities at tremendous speeds and eventually colonizing Mars.
Irrespective of the fact that the rocket exploded on touchdown, Musk has described the test as “Awesome test,” “Congratulation Starship team!”
The launch scheduled at 5:45 pm, the enormous stainless steel rocket lifted off; after reaching its summit, as planned, it started falling, tipping over in a controlled glide back to Earth.
As planned, as it neared the ground, it righted itself in a vertical positioning and fired its three engines to slow down; however, this is where the rocked faulted, the slow down wasn’t enough, and the rocket after 6 minutes, 40 seconds liftoff, collapsed into a fireball, leaving a massive cloud of smoke rising off the test area.
The test flight, however, marked the highest test flight yet of the technology that Musk hopes will one day become a reality.
Musk in one of his tweets before the launch of the rocket tried to dampen the expectations before the scheduled flight saying, “SN8 (the name of the starship prototype), had one- in – three chance of landing safely back on Earth”.
He also tweeted, “an issue with the rocket’s fuel system caused it to make a crash landing.”
However, the crash of the rocket is being viewed as part of the research, and both SpaceX and Musk are known to take such mishaps in their stride and view it as research during the early stages of new spacefaring technology development.
The company’s philosophy and attitude are to move quickly and learn from errors. In this particular case, Musk was quick to point out that – all necessary data needed has been collected from the launch of the Starship prototype.
In previous tests, too, SpaceX has destroyed several Starship Prototypes during pressure tests, which were designed to whether the rocket can withstand enormous pressures it has to undergo during fuelling and in flight.
This is in sharp contrast to NASA’s working mode, which carefully and slowly conducts research and ground tests before putting a rocket on launchpad, probably because it is part of government projects with limited resources and much accounting.
SpaceX has been a long-standing dream turned reality of Elon Musk, who founded the company in 2002, intending to reduce space transportation costs, explicitly looking at colonization of Mars.
Before the flight launch, SpaceX did not disclose how the test was supposed to look, but as the rocket lifted off, one of the Starship’s SN8 engines shut off. When all the engines of the rocket-powered down, the rocket was able to orient itself at an angle during the descent, Musk had earlier said that the angle of the rocket mimics a skydiver falling through the air.
Musk said he hoped that a fully operational Starship would be able to tilt about 60 degrees, putting its belly down towards Earth, as it plunges back through the atmosphere in order for it to be less aerodynamic and hence reduce its speed.
Then just before the landing, the rocket would swing back into an upright position and land gently on a ground pad.
SpaceX had also tried twice before this week to launch the test flight, but both the attempts were stopped with just seconds left on the countdown clock; however, no statements were released as to why the launch was halted.
Although it is not uncommon for a launch to be halted minutes before its scheduled launch as they are many possibilities that some anomaly about the rocket may have been caught on by a computer or flight controller.
Previous test flights of Starship prototypes have traveled less than about 500 feet in the air and made use of only one engine; the third time tested rocket was initially to travel 60,000 feet – 11 miles – or higher and had three engines instead of one.
Sixty thousand feet or above would have taken the rocket to Earth’s stratosphere; this is where the weather balloons are flown, and supersonic airplane flights are run. But the company later decided to reduce the target from 60,000 feet to 40,000 feet; the reason for the lower limit is not known.
Starship’s final design is said to need and have six engines; the rocket would still need to have a separate rocket booster to enable the spacecraft into orbit as the trip would require super-high speeds of 17 miles per hour.
Also, for a journey to Mars, the rocket will need to reach “Escape Velocity,” which is roughly about 25,000 miles per hour; this is the speed that is required for a rocket to speed away from Earth’s gravitational pull, thus allowing it to travel to a further distance in space.
However, while the tests are on, the company is still a long way from building a Starship space aircraft. Until now, the company has been able to test how the steel frames perform under extreme pressure and to conduct – suborbital – hop tests. Which are needed to gauge how the rocket’s enormous engines can steer the spacecraft to soft, locate and pinpoint landings after flight.
Musk has stated that the technology and the know-how are essential for reusing and recovering the vehicle and conducting a controlled landing on the moon or Mars.