On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched—and nearly landed—a fully-assembled prototype of its next generation Starship rocket on a suborbital flight from its facility in south Texas. This is the rocket that Elon Musk hopes will soon carry humans to the moon and, eventually, to Mars, but Wednesday’s launch was an uncrewed test flight that lasted just a few minutes. The rocket flew to an altitude of 40,000 feet—roughly the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner—and performed what Musk has called a “belly flop” maneuver on its way back to Earth. The rocket executed a controlled descent to the surface and righted itself just a few hundred feet above the ground. But it wasn’t able to slow its descent fast enough to safely touch down and exploded spectacularly near the landing pad. While the rocket only made it about a tenth of the way to space and didn’t survive the landing attempt, it’s still a major step toward a first orbital mission and a big win for Musk’s interplanetary ambitions. SpaceX’s Starship looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of a pulp science fiction novel. Its gleaming, bullet-shaped silver hull is a patchwork of stainless steel plates. Two triangular… Read full this story
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