LAKE MARY, Fla. - SpaceX's futuristic Starship exploded after what looked to be a successful touchdown. SpaceX had live-streamed the launch and landing but ended its feed before the explosion.
The full-scale prototype soared more than six miles Wednesday after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas. It descended horizontally and then flipped upright just in time to land.
Starship SN10 (serial number 10) was the third high-altitude suborbital flight test of a Starship prototype, similar to the high-altitude flight tests of Starships SN8 in December and SN9 in February. Both blew up while attempting to land.
Starship SN10 was scheduled to launch hours earlier but had to abort at 00:00:1 seconds left. SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained that the abort was due to a slightly conservative high thrust limit.
Another attempt was made hours later. The shiny bullet-shaped rocketship remained intact, prompting a SpaceX commentator to declare, "third time's a charm."
Starship SN10 appeared to have nailed the landing about six minutes after liftoff, but flames could be seen at the base of the ship that required jets of water to suppress. The craft blew up roughly eight minutes later as it sat on the launchpad, reportedly due to a fuel leak. It was hurled into the air by the force.
Last month, Starship SN9 erupted into a ball of fire as it attempted to land at the SpaceX Boca Chica launch site following a successful high-altitude test flight. The SN9's predecessor, the SN8, experienced a similar fate.
Starship SN9 was attempting a "flip maneuver," which appeared to succeed in orienting the rocket. However, the ship came into the launchpad too fast, meeting a fiery end.
The Starship is actually the upper stage of Musk’s envisioned moon- and Mars-ships. It will launch atop a mega booster still in development known as the Super Heavy. The entire vehicle will tower 394 feet (120 meters) — 31 feet (9.4 meters) -- taller than NASA’s Saturn V rocket that hurled men to the moon a half-century ago.
SpaceX said a controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, will be critical to landing the Starship on planets or moons where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist.
The Starship is designed to be "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."
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