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SpaceX Starship: A spacecraft prototype explodes again in a second controlled landing attempt

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The second attempt to launch the Starship vehicle, from SpaceX, had the same result as the first: an explosion.

The uncrewed spacecraft, called SN9, reached an altitude of 10 km and then began a programmed, controlled descent maneuver a short distance from where it had taken off, off Texas’s coast.

But something went wrong, and it was destroyed.

The same maneuver was put to the test last month with the SN8, which ended up hitting the ground and exploding unexpectedly.

However, SpaceX said it obtained a large amount of data and that its engineers would go ahead with the program.

“Remember, this was a test flight, the second time we flew Starship in this configuration,” said John Insprucker, the commentator for the SpaceX broadcasts.

“We have to work on that landing a little bit. But we’ll figure it out with the team as the data is reviewed. We stayed in touch with telemetry until the end. So all in all, another great test.”

The 50-meter-high spacecraft is a prototype for future space transportation.

SpaceX director Elon Musk believes that the rover will be capable of taking people to Mars once fully developed. It could also transport passengers at high speed around the world. Or put satellites into orbit.

What happened on this second try?

The Starship design is progressing rapidly at the company’s R&D facility near the small coastal town of Boca Chica, Texas.

Like SN8, the vehicle was sent skyward by its three methane-burning Raptor engines. They were turned off in sequence as the prototype reached the desired altitude.

At that point, the Starship positioned itself horizontally to begin its return to land, explained BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos.

This descent, controlled by large fins at each end of the vehicle, seeks to simulate how future spacecraft will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere from orbit. With this position, the wide surface generated by the vehicle reduces speed.

The idea is for the vehicle to return to a tail-down position just before reaching the surface, at which point two engines are turned on again to slow the fall.

But at first glance, the SN9 only managed to start one engine properly, says Amos. The vehicle was engulfed in flames when it hit the concrete platform on the ground.

SpaceX already has an SN10 mounted for the next experimental flight. Other prototypes are in various stages of assembly in Boca Chica.

Musk has stated that Starship is now the number one priority for SpaceX. NASA has asked you to examine the possibility of landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface in the next few years.

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