Nation & World

Another SpaceX Starship prototype destroyed before landing

The SpaceX Starship prototype SN11 was destroyed during a test flight on March 30, 2021.

SpaceX attempted another launch of a Starship prototype on Tuesday, but once again, the test ended up with the rocket no longer in one piece.

The test flight of the SN11 rocket, as in serial number 11, with its three Raptor engines, took off in the fog from the company’s site in Boca Chica, Texas, after 8 a.m. local time, and looked to be on its way to another attempt to stick the landing.


Only one of the last three launches of a Starship prototype was able to land upright, but even that one exploded soon after it touched down. The video stream for the SN11 flight froze at 5:49 into the test while on its way back down to Earth after hitting more than 10 km altitude.

“Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed,” reads a post from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter account. “Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.”


Soon after the video froze with a flush of noise and a banging sound, SpaceX commentator John Insprucker announced, “Looks like we’ve had another exciting test of Starship No. 11. A reminder once again, this is a test series to gather data on entry of the Starship vehicle at subsonic speeds as it comes back to the landing zone. It does appear though that another exciting test as we say. ... we’re going to have to find out from the team what happened.”

After it was apparent that something had gone wrong with the landing, Musk tweeted, “At least the crater is in the right place!”

Brady Kenniston, a photographer for media site captured video of the exploding rocket, which shows a flash amid the fog coupled with an echoing boom followed by scenes of debris raining down on the landing site and surrounding area.

Plans are for SpaceX to continue proving out flight ability for Starship with higher altitudes, and eventually orbital test flights. The tests follow a similar method it used when developing its Falcon rockets. Starship is the company’s eventual replacement for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

Musk said another prototype was already queued up for its test launch.

“SN15 rolls to launch pad in a few days,” he stated on Twitter. “It has hundreds of design improvements across structures, avionics/software & engine. Hopefully, one of those improvements covers this problem. If not, then retrofit will add a few more days.”

The Starship design is meant to be used for both suborbital point-to-point flights on Earth and for deep-space missions such as to the moon and Mars. The full version will feature six Raptor engines, stand about 165 feet tall and have a 100-passenger capacity. The large version of Starship would be coupled with a Super Heavy booster with 37 Raptor engines combined for Mars colonization plans.