SpaceX dropped an early Christmas present for space fans everywhere this week with an amazing video recap of its first major test launch of a Starship rocket.
The video, which SpaceX unveiled Wednesday (Dec. 23), shows the company's first high-altitude launch of its giant Starship SN8, a rocket prototype for a fully reusable space launch system for trips to the moon and Mars. SpaceX launched the Starship SN8 on Dec. 8 from a pad it its test facility near the village of Boca Chica in South Texas.
"12 story rocket turns off its engines & does a controlled fall," SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter.
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During the Dec. 8, SpaceX's Starship SN8 launched to an altitude of about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) using its three Raptor engines. At its peak, the rocket shut down its engines and performed a "belly flop" to make a controlled glide to a landing site near its launch pad.
Just before touchdown, Starship SN8 fired up one of its engines once more to flip the rocket around to attempt an upright landing similar to those regularly performed by SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters. But the rocket landed a bit too fast due to a lower than expected fuel tank header pressure, cause it to crash and explode in a brilliant fireball.
In the new video, SpaceX catches that moment with a camera just below the booster at the landing pad, as well as from afar. Musk and SpaceX celebrated the launch test despite the explosion, adding that the mission proved Starship's ability not only to launch on the company's new Raptor engines, but also glide itself back to Earth to a landing spot.
"SN8 did great!" Musk wrote on Twitter on Dec. 9. "Even reaching apogee would've been great, so controlling all the way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic."
"Mars, here we come," Musk wrote later.
SpaceX expressed similar sentiments in the recap video.
"SN8 demonstrated a first-of-its-kind controlled aerodynamic descent and a landing flip maneuver," SpaceX states in the video. "Together these will enable landing where no runways exist including the moon, Mars and beyond."
Musk has said the company may save the SN8 wreckage to preserve its memory.
Indeed, NASA has tapped SpaceX's Starship vehicle as a contender for crewed moon landing missions under its Artemis program. The company's final Starship vehicle will include both the Starship spacecraft and a massive reusable booster called Super Heavy to launch deep-space missions.
SpaceX is already hard at work preparing its next Starship prototype, the SN9 rocket, for its own test launch, possibly later this month. The rocket required some extra work earlier this month after it appeared to tip slightly inside its hangar at Boca Chica, according to images captured by Starship watchers and posted on Twitter.
Sunrise with Starship SN9 at SpaceX Boca Chica launch site. 🤩🚀😍@NASASpaceflight https://t.co/lQVrVVV5nH pic.twitter.com/Vzf8aXBcoFDecember 23, 2020
But the rocket has since rolled out to to its launch pad.
"Next up: SN9," SpaceX said.
Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.