There is no secret that SpaceX has been taking over the space industry in the past few years. With constant innovation, SpaceX is leagues ahead of it competeders and for good reasons. With the world in a Global Pandemic, SpaceX still accomplished so much in 2020. For the first time in 9 years, SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts, (Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken), into orbit and successfully docking on the International Space Station on their Crew Dragon spacecraft. This was only one of many accomplishments that the SpaceX team accomplished in 2020. But the founder of the company, Elon Musk has his eyes set on bigger and better things.
Over the past few years, Musk and his team have been wondering what is the next big thing. For SpaceX, that would be putting human life on Mars. Obviously this would be no easy task but Musk came up with a solution that is not so normal for the Space Industry. This solution is a fully reusable, two-stage-to-orbit super heavy-lift launch vehicle, that they call Starship. Standing at 122 m (400 ft) tall, this giant vessel is estimated to carry up to 100 passengers making the colonization of Mars much easier and “practical”.
So why is this being brought up in 2021? At 3:25 p.m on February 2nd, the second fully constructed stainless-steel Starship SN9 took to the skies for a test flight. The launch happened at the company’s South Texas facility in Boca Chica testing out a precise landing maneuver that makes Starship fully reusable. This maneuver requires the vessel to flip on its side (belly flop) using aerodynamics in its favor. Starship has four main control surfaces that act similar to wings on an aircraft. These control surfaces help the ship stay stable during re-entry to earth or even Mars. Starship SN9s testflight was a huge success for SpaceX. The rocket completed its burn all the way up to its target altitude of about 6.2 miles, and rotated performing the “belly flop” maneuver. On the second flip to land vertically, only two of the three Raptor Engines ignited, causing SN9s landing velocity to be too high resulting in a fiery explosion just like SN8 on December 9th.
Sure this may sound like quite a failure to most, but what you don’t see is the amount of data being collected from each flight. All of the critical data is closely looked over after each and every flight to help prepare for the next one. Each flight marks a huge milestone in the Space Industry failure or not. In a matter of weeks, SpaceX implemented their learnings from SN9 into SN10 and held the first fully successful flight. The spacecraft completed its maneuver flawlessly on the March 3rd launch landing completely vertical on the landing pad. This is a huge accomplishment for SpaceX as they continue to innovate and push the space industry forward!