For the fourth time in a row, SpaceX has lost one of its Starship prototypes during a high-altitude test launch.
Starship Serial Number 11 (SN11) launched from the company’s test site in Boca Chica, Texas, on 30 March at 8am local time (2pm BST) in thick fog. Similar to the three previous attempts, SN11 climbed to roughly 10km (6.2 miles) in altitude using three methane-fuelled Raptor engines, developed by the company.
Reaching its test height, each engine cut out in sequence to allow the rocket to begin its novel unpowered descent, in which it falls horizontally like a skydiver, before reigniting the engines and tilting back to a vertical position for landing.
On 3 March 2021, SN10 appeared to land successfully but about eight minutes later exploded catastrophically. It appears as if this latest attempt exploded in midair. At 5 minutes and 49 seconds into the flight, shortly after the engines restarted for the landing manoeuvre, the rocket stopped communicating.
SpaceX said SN11 “experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly”. In other words, it blew up.