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Watch SpaceX’s Starship abort its test flight with 0.1 seconds left

Published Mar 3rd, 2021 4:49PM EST
starship launch
Image: Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP

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SpaceX’s Starship program has been moving along nicely as of late. Perfecting the technology that could eventually take humans to Mars and even beyond is no easy task, and development has hit its share of roadblocks, but test flights of Starship prototypes have been picking up in frequency lately. Today was supposed to be the launch of Starship prototype 10, and it very nearly happened.

The spacecraft was scheduled for a flight that would have taken it to a target altitude of 10 kilometers, which is a little over six miles in the sky, but some bad luck intervened at the last possible moment. In fact, to say that the launch was aborted at the last second would be false, because it was aborted after the countdown was already over. Check it out for yourself.

There it was. Starship SN10, the latest and greatest prototype of the Starship, packed with a powerful engine that was poised to take it to an impressive altitude before delivering it back to the surface of Earth, safe and sound. And then…

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As you can see on the countdown timer, the count had reached 00:00.1, and the rocket was firing up for its flight, but liftoff never happened. This is a pretty rare occurrence, as typical launch aborts happen with minutes or even hours left on the clock. Systems that just don’t look right on computer readouts often trigger early aborts and delays, but everything appeared to line up well for this flight until the very last fraction of a second.

The failed launch took place just moments ago, so we don’t yet have word from SpaceX regarding the reason for the stoppage. It’s likely that one of the spacecraft’s many fail-safes triggered the abort. The systems that oversee every aspect of the launch, including ignition, the health of the engines, and various other go-fast bits that make the rocket fly are constantly monitored and will halt the launch if any readings fall outside of the expected bounds. In this case, the ignition appears to have resulted in some kind of automated abort, and with the launch window closing shortly, it looks like we’ll have to wait for another day to see SN10 in action.

The 10th Starship prototype is a lot like the previous two, but SpaceX is hoping that the test flight (whenever it happens) finally comes with a happy ending. Starship SN8 and SN9 both flew as intended, but failed to stick their landings, and since SpaceX prides itself on its reusable rocket tech, ensuring that these prototypes land safely and aren’t destroyed after every test flight is pretty important.

SpaceX will likely plan to retry the test launch of SN10 in the coming days, assuming that whatever prevented today’s flight wasn’t a serious issue with the spacecraft.

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