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SpaceX Starship Sticks the Landing -- Then Blows Up Anyway

By Rich Smith - Mar 3, 2021 at 8:38PM

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Third time's the charm for SpaceX.

"Houston? SpaceX here. The Starship has landed."

That wasn't quite how SpaceX put it Wednesday evening -- but wouldn't it be great if it had? After flying prototypes of its Starship twice to high altitude in February, only to see the rockets crash land when they tried to return to base, on Wednesday, March 3, everything came together for SpaceX.

Well, almost everything.

SpaceX Starship MK1 against a night sky

SpaceX Starship MK1 -- the original Starship. Image source: SpaceX.

As with the previous launch attempts of Starship prototypes SN8 and SN9, SpaceX's SN10 lifted off smoothly Wednesday evening from its launch pad in South Texas, and it flew to about 10 kilometers altitude before executing its patented "belly flop" maneuver and floating horizontally back to Earth, exposing as much surface area as possible to slow its descent.

About 20 seconds before landing, Starship reignited its three engines in sequence, flipped itself vertical again, then quickly shut two of them back down again to land gently atop a single flicker of flame. The entire trip took 6 minutes, 20 seconds to complete -- that much time to prove that the world's first fully reusable, orbital-class spaceship can launch fly in the general direction of space and then return to land back on Earth safely.

So what will SpaceX do for an encore?

Well first and foremost, it must figure out why, not long after landing back on Earth, SN10 spontaneously combusted, unceremoniously scattering rocket shards across the Texas desert. 

Still, SpaceX has predicted it will need to run through about 20 Starship prototypes to work out all the kinks. With any luck, SN11, when it launches, will both land and not then self-destruct. And one day soon, SN12, SN13 -- maybe even SN19 or SN20 will launch itself all the way into orbit and then come back to us safe and sound.  

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