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SpaceX’s flip and burn test2 min read

December 14, 2020 2 min read


SpaceX’s flip and burn test2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

All Things Science

Rishi Jain

SpaceX has become a prominent part of the US space industry. It has launched two manned missions to the ISS (International Space Station) in the last six months and is now building its next-gen rocket for Mars and the moon, Starship!

But behind successful engineering masterpieces are failures and obstacles, especially in the prototype stage. 

SpaceX has named its prototypes SN, followed by a number. SpaceX recently launched SN8 (the 8th prototype) from Texas, USA for an 8 mile (12.5 km) launch test. The rocket performed launch operations perfectly and reached the 8 mile mark.

The Flip

As the rocket descended, it performed SpaceX’s newly designed “flip” maneuver, where a rocket flips sideways, so that it was horizontal instead of vertical and its long side was facing the ground. This flip procedure increases friction, allowing the rocket to slow down quicker. These rockets also flip back to their vertical stance as they near the ground.

SN8 performed a “landing burn”, which is when an engine lights up to slow down the rocket. But instead of successfully touching down, the rocket hit the ground with a “BOOM!” and burst into flames.

Low pressure landing

SpaceX later identified the issue as low pressure in the fuel header tank. The fuel header tank is the one that stores the fuel for the rocket engines to use. This engine was obtaining fuel from the fuel header tank.

In this case, the crash landing wasn’t good, but the launch was successful. It gave SpaceX the data and insight it needed to improve future launches. In addition, the rocket reached the altitude goal of 8 miles. To put that in perspective, Mount Everest is about half of that altitude, at around 4-5 miles high.

Here’s a full recap of the launch and crash landing:

Even though this is a major setback for SpaceX, they have worked on the failings of this mission and built SN9. Let’s hope that one does land safely!

Guest Author: Rishi is a 7th grader and basketball fan. He has a sports YouTube channel with 50 subscribers and aspires to make it 1M someday. He likes watching space launches, reading about building rockets.

(All Things Science is weekly column about science, space and other things around it.)