Minutes after SpaceX declared success on Thursday, its futuristic Starship exploded on the landing pad. Two previous test flights crash-landed in fireballs.
Starship is SpaceX’s ambitious spacecraft to take humans to Mars. The company has been working on prototypes to find the right design that will work for the transport.
The full-scale prototype of Elon Musk’s envisioned Mars ship soared more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas. It descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico and then flipped upright just in time to land.
The shiny bullet-shaped rocketship remained intact this time at touchdown, prompting SpaceX commentator John Insprucker to declare, “third time’s a charm as the saying goes” before SpaceX ended its webcast of the test. But then the Starship exploded and was tossed in the air, before slamming down into the ground in flames.
Musk first celebrated the landing on Thursday, saying “Starship SN10 landed in one piece”, and then tweeted: “RIP SN10, honorable discharge”.
Meanwhile, SpaceX said that all four flaps were actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location.
But during the landing flip manoeuvre, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed, causing an explosion.
“These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond,” SpaceX said.
Musk plans to use Starships to send people to the moon and Mars.
The last two prototypes reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but slammed into the ground at Boca Chica, Texas, and exploded. Each of these last three test flights lasted 6 1/2 minutes.