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Starship Just Had Its Biggest Achievement Yet

starship sn10 flight test
starship sn10 flight test

On March 3, Starship SN10 conducted its high-altitude flight and achieved more than any prototype had done so far. 

If you haven’t watched the flight already, take some time out of your day, it’s worth it:

 

Launch & Ascent

At 17:15 CST, Starship SN10 lifted off Pad A at the Starship Launch Site in Boca Chica, Texas. This came after an aborted attempt earlier in the day, whereby the vehicle’s computers commanded shutdown at T-0.1 seconds due to excessive thrust generated by the Raptor engines. 

Elon took to Twitter to tell us they would re-attempt a launch after tweaking the parameters of the flight computer:

And thus, the re-attempt at 17:15 was a go by the flight computer, and SN10 soared into the skies.

We saw a stable ascent, initially powered by all three Raptor engines, before shutting them down in sequence. This was to keep the thrust-to-weight ratio from being too high, and allowed for a stable, controlled ascent to 10km in altitude. 

The Raptors gimbaled (pivoted) in order to maintain control, whilst individual engines were throttled down and eventually shut down. 

Until finally, the vehicle relied upon a single-Raptor engine, providing the final acceleration to 10km. A ‘kick-flip’ maneuver was then performed by the Raptor before being shut down, to re-orient the vehicle belly-first. 

Descent & Landing

With the use of the forward and aft flaps, electrically powered by Tesla motors, SN10 had a stable descent from 10km, once again verifying the concept of the controlled ‘belly-flop’. 

A key moment in the flight was during the landing phase, something SN8 and SN9 had failed on for differing reasons. As talked about in another article, SN10 combined the improvements of SN8 and SN9, in the hope that it could land in one piece. 

And it did just that. 

We saw all three Raptor engines re-ignite successfully, a flip maneuver from horizontal to vertical, and the successful shutdown of two Raptors relying on one to perform the final touchdown. 

And touchdown it did. 

This was the first time a Starship had completed a high-altitude test flight, and landed. We had seen small hops in the past, but nothing as ambitious as this, and we had seen two previous prototypes have a failed attempt at touchdown. 

SN10’s landing marked a truly historic event in Starship development. 

Post-Landing

As everyone in the space community lost their minds, Starship SN10 decided to give one more surprise. 

Reflection

Even though SN10 had landed, it didn’t do so in the smoothest way. Nor did the landing legs deploy as best they should. 

You can visibly see SN10 touching down at a relatively high velocity, to the point where the entire vehicle appeared to bounce on the landing pad. 

Whatever landing legs were deployed correctly, they would’ve likely been crushed by this higher-than-expected landing speed.  

Somehow, the vehicle did manage to remain standing.

But the explosion we saw shortly after was likely due to the fireball we could see being emitted out of the shutdown engines during the landing burn. 

By the looks of things, this could have been leaked methane being combusted by oxygen, the leak source likely being a shutdown Raptor(s).

As the vehicle sat on the landing pad, enclosing the entire engine bay, this fireball continued to rage inside to the point of the liquid oxygen tank being ruptured and ignited. 

SN10 is now a wreck of stainless steel, just like SN8 and SN9 was.

But unlike them, this prototype had gone further than any prototype had gone before and was a huge achievement. 

What’s Next?

Starship SN11 is up next, and will likely conduct a repeat of this high-altitude test, this time landing intact. 

Teams will be hard at work looking through data, and adding improvements wherever needed. The ultimate fate of SN10 came down to the landing velocity being too high, potentially because one or more of the Raptors underperformed. 

Whatever occurred, SpaceX will be seeking a fix, and that fix will be applied to SN11.

Leo B
Written By

Leo is an aerospace enthusiast, whose passion was sparked by SpaceX. He is specifically interested in the rocketry engineering of the company’s ventures.

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