back to article SpaceX Starship blows up on landing, Elon Musk says it's the data that matters and that landed just fine

SpaceX has conducted a test of the Starship it plans to use for crewed flights to Mars, and while the experiment ended badly, the trip was judged a success. Wednesday's flight used just the Starship – the second stage of SpaceX's planned heavy lifter. Previous flights had seen the craft ascend to around 500 feet. This time …

  1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    "Why so upbeat despite the unhappy ending?"

    I seem to remember that the Apollo missions also ended in a big bang. (Well except the one that, you know, failed.)

    Seriously, the craft proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do. How is that a failure?

    Edit: Yes, I get it, this is the Register being the Register but even this frequent Musk sceptic can recognise this as an extraordinary achievement.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

      They claimed it would explode on landing?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        No

        the fireworks display was just a bonus.

        1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: No

          Pity there was no free popcorn

          Popping out to the shops for popcorn, marshmallows and something to drink.

      2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: They claimed it would explode on landing?

        Almost. Musk said only one in three chance of a successful landing so a big boom was the most likely result. I am amazed SN8 performed its lithobraking manoeuvre on the landing pad. I thought it would RUD earlier and make multiple splash-downs. This one was doing really well until the exhaust became engine-rich during the landing burn.

        SN9 has been waiting for the test pad to clear. If fixing the pressure in the small methane tank can be done quickly we may say another starship RUD this year.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: They claimed it would explode on landing?

          "This one was doing really well until the exhaust became engine-rich during the landing burn."

          The engines went lean, not rich. With an insufficient amount of fuel going through the nozzle cooling channels and a much hotter combustion, rocket engines will melt in far less than a second. It's usual to run the fuel/oxidizer mix on the rich side of stoichiometric to account for any valve misalignments. Once the mix goes lean, you see that characteristic green of copper burning.

          SN9 fell over in the assembly building and no word is out on whether it can be fixed or has to be scrapped. Somebody didn't do a thorough job of calculating the loads on the platform that holds the rocket up, from what I read.

          A 33% chance of landing without a bang is irresponsible. There is a condition known as "analysis paralysis" from doing too much modeling of something, but it's much better to be 90% certain everything will work, as far as you know, so there's room for the screwup fairy factor.

      3. awavey

        Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

        Well yes, iirc Musks 1 in 3 chance of success came with a near guarantee it would result in rapid unscheduled disassembly at some point.

        That it achieved everything bar the landing successfully IS a great success,and theyve got all the data they needed from it, 63 years ago this week the US,because NASA hadnt even been invented then, couldn't even get a rocket half the height & a fraction of the weight off the launch pad without it exploding.

        I think people get too distracted by the pretty fireworks and take it for granted rockets can even attempt to land.

      4. HildyJ Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

        The spacecraft flew up untethered, shut down its engines, reoriented into glide mode, navigated to the landing pad, restarted its engines, and hit the landing pad, albeit a bit too fast.

        All in all, I agree with Elon that this was a successful TEST. The design of the next spacecraft, which is already being built, is different and includes different engines. Frankly, we have been spoiled by the success of SpaceX's operational spacecraft and forget that things blowing up is an essential part of those and this development programs.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

          glide mode - in much the same way a brick glides....

          1. Red Ted Silver badge
            Go

            Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

            "The spaceships hung there exactly the way bricks don't."

            1. el_oscuro

              Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

              Actually, I think Musk used that exact quote in one of his tweets.

          2. JDPower Bronze badge
            Facepalm

            Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

            Do bricks have wings that control the angle and direction of descent? Ya know, kinda like a glider.

      5. Marcelo Rodrigues
        Boffin

        Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

        "They claimed it would explode on landing?"

        They didn't even claim landing was a part of this test. The profile mission was to test launch, belly flop, transfer from main fuel tanks to head tanks and attempt landing. ATTEMPT.

        The mission did 100% of the profile objectives.

        1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

          Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

          More like 90% successful. Every critical step in the mission was an ATTEMPT at doing something new with the vehicle. The test was a major step forward in the SpaceX program so overall a success. However, an intact vehicle at the end would have been a bigger success (110%?), unless the actual objective was to maximize views on YouTube.

          1. Killing Time

            Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

            "unless the actual objective was to maximize views on YouTube."

            Well there were well over 400K viewers watching live on the official SpaceX channel that I could see at the time and a similar number the day before. This was for a test.....

            I think there are a great number of people who are genuinely curious and willing to take what they see on these 'commercially risky' broadcasts at face value without surrendering to cynicism but with just a real sense of wonder.

      6. ozmandias

        Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

        There was no explosion, there was a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: proved it can do everything that SpaceX has claimed it would be able to do

        They estimated a 66% chance of failure before take off. If it had exploded on the launch pad they would probably not be happy, but since it completed most of the mission it provided valuable data, so can be viewed as a success.

        They probably expect most of these prototypes to not end well, so have several more coming off the production line. Each one they build will incorporate lessons learned.

        Not sure why the negativity. They are spending their own money, not yours and the explosions make for fine entertainment.

  2. dmck

    Go SpaceX

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      re: Go SpaceX

      Explode the bourgeoisie!

      Can we send the richest up first?

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: re: Go SpaceX

        At least this rich one is spending money on research and building things. There are lots of rich ones who are just famous and hog the limelight

        1. TVU

          Re: re: Go SpaceX

          "At least this rich one is spending money on research and building things"

          Indeed, and his operation is still more advanced than the equivalent offerings from both Boeing and Blue Origin.

          1. el_oscuro

            Re: re: Go SpaceX

            Oh, and he is helping with climate change too. Before Tesla, no one was even thinking or making an actual electric car. Now we see them every day, and none of them has an exhaust pipe.

            I think he really wants to get back to his volcanic lair on Olympus Mons.

            1. hoola Silver badge

              Re: re: Go SpaceX

              In the way that in Germany Tesla have cleared 91 hectares of forest for their new factory. They were told that anything they did was at their risk so in typical Musk fashion they just did it and sod the consequences.

              Electric cars or not we cannot continue to destroy the environment at the rate way are. All this space stuff is great science but every rocket we send up is make holes in the ozone layer and adding huge quantities of CO2. Just as the NASA are trying to get humans on the moon again, trying to get to Mars is even more stupid.

              At least robotic missions are highly unlikely to bugger up the destination with bugs. We are in the process of totally screwing up Earth and a few very rich people seem to think humans have a divine right to do the same on Mars.

              Maybe I am just cynical but I really struggle with the point of sending people to Mars. The only reason is to say you have done it.

              End grump...

              1. 96percentchimp

                Re: re: Go SpaceX

                We're reaching the limit of what you can do with robots. NASA just spent a year trying to get a robotic drill to go more than few cm into Martian soil. The combined NASA/ESA Mars sample return mission will take almost a decade to deliver a few kg. SpaceX (and currently it's the only player on the pitch) will very likely have people in situ by then, able to do more science than every rover humans have ever sent.

                I'm not wild about the idea of full-scale colonisation before the scientists have had a good look around, but if we're going to do more than take pretty pictures, we need to start sending people to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: re: Go SpaceX

        Can we send the richest up first?

        They've signed up at Virgin Galactic

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: re: Go SpaceX

          Virgin Galactic: "The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. "

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55279067

          https://www.virgingalactic.com/articles/virgin-galactic-flight-test-program-update-ypreparing-for-first-rocket-powered-flight-from-new-mexico/

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: re: Go SpaceX

        > Explode the bourgeoisie!

        That's the middle-classes, not necessarily the rich.

        1. DropBear

          Re: re: Go SpaceX

          This is 2020, there's no "middle" class anymore - only the poor, the obscenely rich and a few folks here and there hanging on for dear life in-between.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: Go SpaceX

            I'm neither poor nor obscenely rich, nor just hanging on. I feel quite bourgeois though.

            1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

              Re: re: Go SpaceX

              We knew that already. Says [insert your choice of It mega corp]

  3. tel2016
    Mushroom

    SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

    The flight was a success because SpaceX proved almost all of the concepts. Even the landing technique. The reason it blew up was because it was still going a bit too fast on touchdown. It was still going too fast because of a fuel problem in the oxygen header tank (which is only used for landing) resulting in insufficent thrust.

    What was achieved:

    Use of three of the brand-new Raptor engines to launch the craft

    Engine cut-off and manoevre into bellyflop position

    Skydiving back down under control without RUD

    Engine relight and landing flip

    SN8 blew up on the LANDING pad. If it had blown up on the LAUNCH pad, the test wouldn't have been considered as successful :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Minor correction

      It was a fuel header tank pressure issue that resulted in lost of thrust - which is why the exhaust turns green during landing as the oxygen reacted with the copper in the engine instead!

      1. richardcox13
        Mushroom

        Re: Minor correction

        Oxygen in a high energy environment is such fun: will react with almost anything...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Oxygen in a high energy environment

          Oxygen is the best!!

          Regards,

          Jean Michel Jarre

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: Oxygen in a high energy environment

            Or JJ72...

            [puts her best sulky goth dress on]

      2. tel2016

        Re: Minor correction

        Scott Manley put it best when he said the problem was "an engine-rich exhaust"

        1. richardcox13
    2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

      How many Falcon first stages didn't make it back to the scutters for cleaning? Now a pinned recovery doesn't even make the news!

      Someone famous in the field of writing proverbial comments said something about not going too quickly and trapping simians. Trump has tried to armtwist NASA into galloping into the blinding headlights of endeavour and, as is his want, to set themselves up for glorius failure. Musky seems to develop at a jog but his abilities seems to lay in both the concurrent production of test vehicles and, more importantly, the rapid flow of information from each experiment into the next. This makes each step as productive as possible and allows the actual project development process to be as rapid as it can be.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

        Indeed. SpaceX's Falcon rockets have had 102 successful missions from 104 launches, giving a 98% success rate, despite us all remembering the odd fireball. When Falcons did RUD, Musk wasn't despondent.

        Therefore, I'm inclined to believe him if he says he's happy with this Starship's test, despite the Boom!

    3. Grikath

      Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

      This...

      Plus the fact that this prototype seemed to lack any serious attempt at, y'know, actual landing gear at all.

      I've the feeling the craft wasn't expected to land without rapid disassembly, and that it got a lot further than people actually expected. The whole flight showed enough "you really don't want to see this happen" from the engine housing as it was..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

        It did have flip-down crushable (single use) "legs", but it looked to me like they didn't deploy.

        1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

          Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

          From what I remember of the previous test (which did land successfully) the legs deploy surprisingly quickly and only at the very last moment. So I suspect the too-quick final descent meant there wasn't time to deploy legs.

        2. AdamT

          Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

          Based on the two hops (where I think a couple of the legs got crushed pretty badly despite the relatively low speeds) it didn't seem likely that they were going to work anyway. You may be right about the deploy as, on the hops, the legs did deploy much earlier and higher, but possibly this time it was intended to be later and lower so was in the dust cloud (shortly before it became a fire cloud)

          I genuinely don't think SpaceX will care that it blew up - SN8 was already out of date compared to the next set of prototypes so, if they didn't move it off the launch pad by launching it, they were probably going to have to move it with the crane and dismantle it.

          This way they have learned a huge amount and also possibly reconfirmed that the landing legs weren't up to it - which they already suspected (based on some Elon tweets)

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

        Loved the first bit of the descent, belly down, which reminded me of the Adama manoeuvre.

      3. ridley

        Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

        You can see the legs folded up inside the "Skirt" as the starship skydived.

        They didn't deploy though.

    4. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: SN8 flight was to test multiple concepts in one go

      If it had blown up on the LAUNCH pad, the test wouldn't have been considered as successful :)

      You underestimate both Elon Musk and his fanboiz.

  4. werdsmith Silver badge

    This is why we

    1. Fred Dibnah
      Thumb Up

      Succinct and to the point.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Ag

        re

        ed

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Ignition

    Anyone who has read Ignition would know that RUDs are part and parcel of the learning process.

    Fireworks now help to avoid future unwanted fireworks involving passengers.

    I like the way SpaceX consistently think outside of the usual boxes and deliver the goods.

    Impressed by the skydiving and flip!

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Ignition

      If your prototype didn't blow up at least once in testing I'm not getting on the production version because I don't know what you forgot to test.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        what you forgot to test

        Incompetence in IT at its best.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: what you forgot to test

          *cough* 737 MAX *cough*

          1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

            Re: what you forgot to test

            >*cough* 737 MAX *cough*

            Apples vs oranges. Although clearly not safe enough for commercial use, the 737 Max managed 8,600 successful flights per week while still in service. It is going to be a long time before SpaceX rockets a can be declared that safe.

            Not criticizing SpaceX, space flight remains an inherently dangerous but worthy adventure. And will be so for some time yet.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ignition

      Me too!

      I wasn't sure what to expect from this flight. Taking off without a support tower looked interesting. The relatively slow flight up shows excellent control. I was a bit concerned when the first engine turned off and the inside of the ship caught fire, but noted that the unused engine gimballed out of the way, as did the 2nd engine when it in turn switched off.

      And then there was the rotation into the the belly down configuration! It already looked like a "real" spaceship from 1950's SF, but seeing fly like something Flash Gordon or Dan Dare might be piloting was gobsmacking! I'd like to have seen the camera zoom out a bit to get an impression of how much cross-range it managed "flying" with it's "wings".

      It did seem that the first engine to switch off seemed to be still pumping fuel out after de-ignition though. Maybe that's why there wasn't the fuel pressure for the landing?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "seemed to be still pumping fuel out"

        I think that's just part of the shutdown cycle - there will still be propellent in the pipes and pumps when the valves are closed and it takes a short time for the flow to come to an end (remember, there is lots of propellent going through these things).

      2. ridley

        Re: Ignition

        Look at some of the non SpaceX feeds, they give a much better impression of its cross range capability.

        Pretty impressive for a flying tower block.

      3. WereWoof

        Re: Ignition

        The glide phase made me think of Gerry Anderson`s Fireball XL5 (no pun intended).

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "didn’t even have the engine configuration planned for the production model"

    True, but it did use the three atmospheric raptor engines that will be used. There will also be three vacuum raptors in the production model (total of six).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      raptors in the production model

      My Klingon friend uses his Raptor in vacuum and in atmospheres. He's the best.

    2. ridley

      Re: "didn’t even have the engine configuration planned for the production model"

      I though it had 6 vacuum and the atmospheric for a total of 9?

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "didn’t even have the engine configuration planned for the production model"

        "I though it had 6 vacuum and the atmospheric for a total of 9?"

        The design changes all of the time. One version had 56(?) Merlin engines. The estimated sound pressure level was predicted to be as loud as a Saturn V launch at the viewing stand if the rocket was 25 miles offshore.

  7. Jon7245

    The begruding tone of this article doesn't suprise me at all, this is the norm with this boring blighty blog. The fact this prototype vehicle, contructed in the open for all to witness, made it as far as it did does indeed mean it was a resounding success. No vehicle like it has been attempted before. Its reusable full-flow staged combustion engines are the first to be mass produced and 3 of them lifted it to the 12km target altitude (with staged shut-downs of 2 of them as it got lighter and higher). It then performed an unbelieveble 'belly flop' manouver, and with incrediable stability sky-dived back to earth. 80 odd tonnes of steel with massive aerodynamic loads gracefully free falling back to earth! It then re-lit 2 of its engines in-flight, while horizontal with seconds to go, and righted itself almost instantly and right on target of the landing zone. To only then to meet terra-firma with slightly more speed due to fuel starvation as the header tank (located 50m at the top of the ship) didn't have quite the umph to feed those hungrty engines in the last few critical meters. An incredible feat of design and engineering and deserves nothing but celebration for this histric acheivement.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Mushroom

      If you don't like the tone of the reporting here, you're free to get your news elsewhere. As a Brit, my sense of humour matches with the author's. This article doesn't come across as begrudging at all; actually quite celebratory really.

      It's an exciting step forwards and the fiery end was just headline-grabbing enough to get the attention of those who don't follow this stuff as closely as us.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yes

        I like the british style of reporting overhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Yes

          We don't! Says missive from AMD*

          *Apple Marketing Department

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      @jon, From your third setence on, you are mostly correct. However I doubt the engines are being mass produced, that would imply cosumer market levels of production and I doubt that such a market exists.

      Perhaps standardised would describe it better.

      For what it is worth, the style and tone of The Register is what makes it stand out and what makes it worth reading as opposed to others with similar content.

    3. First Light Silver badge

      Grumpy is the British happy, calling people muppets and numpties is their way of saying I love you. You just have to understand the vibe.

    4. 96percentchimp

      Merkin news only knows how to do "Woo hah!" and "Boo sucks!". In Britain we have a thing called nuance, you should give it a try.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A better headline would be "SpaceX successfully tests Starship, minor mishap at the end"

    And that applies to all of the press coverage I've seen so far!

    I guess the "blows up", "ends in failure" and similar draw the readers in more.

    The various teams covering the event live predicted what the headlines would be long before they were published.

  9. Buck Rarebit

    My favourite christmas present

    SN8 was an unqualified success, I say that because it was all about the data aquired during:

    1. Launch and engine performance during the ascent

    2. Control surfaces successfully managing the attitude of the rocket descent

    3. Switch to header tanks, re-ignition of the engines and successful flip back to vertical

    4. Landing

    I would argue that data gathered about an overly hot landing is even more valuable than that of a perfect one. They now know about the pressure issue in the header tank so in my opinion SN8 could not have performed it's job any better than it did. Once SN8 had landed it was effectively redundant anyway as SN9 is almost ready to go complete with improvements on SN8.

    Unqualified success? Hell yeah :)

  10. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "Jamie wants big boom"

    I expect the esteemed mr. Hyneman has been watching.

  11. Lee D Silver badge

    Question: What's wrong with just landing like normal?

    This seems to use a lot of fuel to do what a wing and an unpowered glide and normal landing could do more safely.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      The extra mass of a wing would require extra fuel to launch. A wing, with its required control surfaces, would add complexity. Landing as a glider would require a runway instead of a pad (ruling out launch trajectories that require a landing at sea). Landing as a glider would require an undercarriage and the structural reinforcement to support it - yet more mass. Landing as a glider would require a means of scrubbing velocity - parachutes mounted near the hot engines, or brakes on the wheels, or tickets firing from the nose.

      But I'm not an aerospace engineer.

      1. AdamT

        ^ this. Wings and all the other stuff are dead weight except for the last couple of minutes of the mission. You already have some rockets so a little bit of extra fuel for them to use is worth it.

      2. DaveFlagAndTenDigits

        You'd also need a runway, and there aren't any of those on the Moon or Mars.

    2. S4qFBxkFFg

      Doesn't work on the Moon, probably won't work on Mars.

      1. AdamT

        ^ this too. A modified Starship is one of the three proposals for NASAs moon landing. The Curiosity (and soon Perseverance) rovers on Mars I think are already on the mass limit of where a parachute is vaguely plausible to slow it down. Even then they had to use the (rocket powered) skycrane for the actual landing. So this is just cutting out the mass of the parachute. It would still do the skydive manoeuvre, because why not it might help a bit, but will use the rockets for landing. And then taking off again later. I would imagine that even if you did have a big enough parachute, guaranteeing a vertical landing could be tricky...

    3. Julz Silver badge

      Landing gear alone comprise about 5% to 10% of the mass of a typical airplane. That is a lot of dead weight to carry around.

    4. DropBear

      Wings will do next to nothing for you on Mars, and this thing is engineered from the ground up to go there. Starting right with the choice of fuel.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Wings will do next to nothing for you on Mars,"

        This has me wondering why they are messing with it at all. It's a big science project that doesn't fit with the stated mission.

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "This seems to use a lot of fuel to do what a wing and an unpowered glide and normal landing could do more safely."

      On Mars?

  12. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Very impressive.

    Unfortunately this is the way to get solid results - you test one thing at a time, and it costs time and money, but is rewarding when you can send up the finished product and it performs as intended, and you know all the gotchas have been ironed out.

    Not like the MAX which did not perform as intended.

    1. Binraider Bronze badge

      Agreed. Almost the whole of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo programme can be considered a sequence of all-up tests, and certainly not testing only one thing at a time. It's most obvious on Apollo 7 through 11; i.e. 7 for orbit, navigate and re-entry; 8 for booster and lunar navigation; 9 & 10 for the LEM; then 11 for the whole shebang. Similar steps in capability being developed and tested for the first time can be seen right through the series.

      The space shuttle for all of it's glamour put paid to the incremental development we're seeing again amongst SpaceX / Blue Origin / a dozen others. Some incredible tech went into getting the shuttle running, and then everything went on hold for best part of 2 if not 3 decades. Hell; Russia is still flying derivatives of the R7. Despite efforts to look for alternatives it's progress has been positively glacial.

      I'm not one for commercialisation of every last problem, but it would certainly appear the strategy backed by deep pockets with nothing better to do is working for the space industry.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        " Almost the whole of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo programme can be considered a sequence of all-up tests, and certainly not testing only one thing at a time."

        They did do an extensive amount of testing short of a rocket launch. I've got endless video on just about every aspect of those early missions. I find them very fascinating for how they were able to do many of the tests on Earth. There is "Test as you fly, Fly as you test", which is fine for aircraft, but you need surrogates for projects that burn up 1/4 billion dollars at a time.

  13. DarkwavePunk

    Awesome stuff

    Having watched the full 8 odd hours of the launch build up the day before only for it to be auto-scrubbed at T -1 I was dreading this launch.

    The launch was nominal.

    The raptors seemed to be spluttering approaching apogee (but I don't know if that was good, bad or just plain ugly)

    The belly flop and glide control was impressive

    The flip maneuver to vertical and engine re-ignition amazing

    It hit its target on the landing pad. Okay, maybe just a tad too hard I'll grant you.

    All in all a jolly good show for a prototype. SN9 is just around the corner and that may go boom as well. Who knows? But it's all rather fun actually.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The raptors seemed to be spluttering"

      Elon reported that they worked correctly, including staged shutdowns on ascent.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "The raptors seemed to be spluttering"

        "Elon reported that they worked correctly, including staged shutdowns on ascent."

        Of course he did. They'll be floating another $500 million equity raise early in 2021.

  14. Adair Silver badge

    You can't beat a good 'KA-BOOM!'...

    during the testing phase. It indicates commitment to moving the state of the art forwards.

    Fabulous result.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You can't beat a good 'KA-BOOM!'...

      It also saves a lot of tedious, manual disassembly of a now obsolete prototype ;-)

      Time to roll out SN9...

      1. ian 22

        Re: You can't beat a good 'KA-BOOM!'...

        What can they be doing with all the resulting scrap stainless steel?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          If I could get hold of it...

          I would cut it into squares and sell it on eBay.

  15. Elledan Silver badge

    Quick road into retirement

    The nature of prototypes is that they are essentially obsolete, at best a curiosity one stuffs into a museum once the tests have been performed on it. Watch SN5 and SN6 lounging around the build site, or StarHopper, which has been repurposed into a mounting post for cameras and weather sensors. One may hope that they make it into a 'SpaceX Museum' at some point, rather than being scrapped and turned into CyberTrucks or such. SN8 definitely carved out its space in history by going out with a bang rather than quietly into the night.

    SN8 was by all conventions a booming success (sorry), as it did everything it had said on the tin and then some. It got SpaceX real-world flight data of a StarShip prototype. It got them performance metrics on the performance of the Raptor engines (including relighting) and also these header tanks.

    All that was learned from SN8 can now be integrated into SN9 before its flight, and very likely it'll stick the landing without the RUD part. Before SN8 there were many questions and doubts, after its flight we know so much more. SN9's flight will be to address the few lingering questions that remain and test fixes for issues encountered during SN8's flight.

    Such is the nature of iterative development and testing, of which SN8 was a smashing example :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "a smashing example"

      I see what you did there ;-)

  16. tel2016

    I've heard...

    people (not SpaceX unfortunately) refer to the fins as 'Elonerons', which is as good a name as any, so that's what I'm going to call them from now on.

    Now the wait for SN9 launch... but even if it doesn't stick the landing, then parts up to SN16 have been spotted onsite.

    There's a way to go yet. How Starship holds up when descending from orbit is one question that's yet to be answered, but I'm optimistic.

  17. Eponymous Bastard

    Dope fiend

    Musk is dope fiend who thinks he's above the law and gets away with slander. Why waste your time and $$$ on a prick like that?

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Dope fiend

      I rather think it's his money & time, pushing the envelope of whats achievable & having to redevelop tech with currently available materials after a fairly lengthy hiatus of development by Uncle Sam.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dope fiend

      I will admit that he can be a dick, especially with his pedo comments. That does not detract from the very impressive things he has achieved with his companies.

      There are plenty of dicks around who haven't done anything.

  18. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
  19. james 68

    Anyone else notice that the exhaust from one of the rocket motors changed to a bright green flame many seconds before the BOOM?

    You could get such a green coloured flame by burning copper (an unlikely material in a high temp rocket motor) or by burning boron (a very likely material given its much higher melting point and other features) either way it suggests that the motor was in effect "eating itself" prior to the fateful landing.

    1. Elledan Silver badge

      Yes, as noted by Elon Musk on Twitter shortly after the RUD, they had noticed low pressure in the header tank during descent. This resulted in the Raptors after relighting quickly running out of propellant, leading to one Raptor flaming out and the other running 'engine-rich', as Scott Manley put it.

      Basically the combustion process was eating its way back into the engine's structures, assisted by the hot temperature of the engine and the supply of oxygen feeding back into this. So yes, that green flame was literally the engine burning up, including copper or copper alloy-based elements.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "burning copper (an unlikely material in a high temp rocket motor) "

      A very likely material. It has one of the best thermal transfer characteristics and alloys can be very hard. Nickel was often used by NASA by bundling/welding square tubing into nozzle shapes. It's just really hard to do it that way and very expensive. If you can't pull the heat from the inner surface of the combustion chamber, it's going to melt. Higher temp metal alloys aren't as good as copper for transferring heat so they would get to an even higher temperature.

  20. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
    Happy

    This was the best kind of rocket test

    SpaceX is happy with its data AND we get an explosion. WHAT MORE DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Passenger version

    One of the uses for this is as a point to point passenger transport on Earth. If it uses this flight profile will passengers be in rotating chairs or will they just need a really big clean up crew after every flight?

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Passenger version

      The flip manoeuvre did look excitingly violent didn't it

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Passenger version

      In the Virgin Galactic cabin...

      Passengers will sit in seats that move to manage G-forces in the different phases of flight - on the boost up to space and on the descent back to Earth.

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55279067

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Passenger version

        "Passengers will sit in seats that move to manage G-forces in the different phases of flight "

        Sounds like a lot more weight in a craft that still can't make it to the Karman line.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Passenger version

      " If it uses this flight profile will passengers be in rotating chairs or will they just need a really big clean up crew"

      Not just passengers, but cargo. If anything were to come loose prior to that maneuver, it could go banging through the interior. Parts coming loose would be a problem in just about any scenario, but that doesn't mean limiting abrupt translations isn't a good thing to do.

      I recently watched a F9 booster land back on the pad at Vandenberg without using a wild and crazy pitch maneuver and it worked perfectly. The next time I hope to have my remote camera rig working.

  22. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Here's what I see

    I have experience working on rockets. Hence my nickname.

    There was continuous venting coming from the vehicle. That's really odd. Once the engines light, there shouldn't be a need for any system to vent. If the stated problem of low header tank pressure was accurate, I have to wonder if the fuel header vented to release pressure while it not being used and the valve froze open. That's not an uncommon issue especially in humid environments. It's also a rookie mistake.

    The staging of the engines as they were shut down during flight was very violent. One problem that took time to resolve on the Saturn V was understanding turbulence with more than one engine operating. I got to visit the test stand at Edwards Air Force base where they worked on the F1's. Couldn't take photos, darnit. Big discontinuities can create instabilities. I understand that having an unlit engine directly next to one operating is a problem, but what happened on SN8 was more violent than seems necessary.

    Fuel/oxidizer slosh is a big problem. It can cause pogo'ing and if an outlet is uncovered, even for an instant, a turbopump can explode or the engine can go lean and burn through. The pitch over was very abrupt and really close to ignition of the engines for landing. That didn't leave any time for settling. I'm surprised that they didn't use "waffle" grids to have the rocket right itself mostly through aerodynamics and much further up on the same way as the F9. They have this technology. It would mean getting mostly vertical and decelerating so fuel and oxidizer would be at the bottom of the tanks where it needs to be.

    The engine gimbaling was rough. It's easily seen from the video that there were times when two engines where they were moving in opposite directions. WTH? Right before landing it can be seen in the exhaust. If all of the engines are coordinated, it takes smaller movements to correct the flight. The computing power goes way down too.

    This is not a new company learning to crawl here. They have another vehicle class that has gone some time now without exploding. I'm very surprised that the FAA is letting them fly with the CEO stating he gives a mission a 67% chance of failure. The vehicle has more than enough Delta V to get to South Padre Island, Port Isabel or Brownsville easily enough if it does something wrong and that's the FAA's concern, uninvolved public. Is somebody checking that the Range Safety Package is armed?

    I'm sure SpaceX will be able to raise another couple of billion again this year.

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