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SpaceX Starship prototype explodes after initially successful landing

Image credit: Dreamstime

A prototype for SpaceX’s proposed Mars lander took to the skies yesterday in a high-altitude test that saw it land back on Earth with precision before blowing itself up eight minutes after touchdown.

The Starship model, known as SN10, came far closer to achieving a safe, vertical touchdown than the two previous models SN8 and SN9.

In December, SN8 performed the first high-altitude test flight, demonstrating most of the atmospheric re-entry manoeuvres, but exploded as it landed. Last month, SN9 attempted a 10km flight, but once again exploded on landing after one of the Raptor engines failed to ignite.

SN10, which is a full-scale prototype of the final Starship design, triggered its automated fire-suppression system upon landing which trained a stream of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket. But this was not enough to prevent the Starship exploding, causing it to launch back into the air, before slamming back into the ground in flames.

sn10 explosion spacex rocket

SN10 explodes after its initial landing

Image credit: reuters

While there was no immediate comment from SpaceX on what went wrong, its founder Elon Musk said in a tweet: “Starship 10 landed in one piece! RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”

“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he added.

The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 120m tall in combination with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is SpaceX's next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle and the centre of Musk's ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.

A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year's end. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the Moon with the Starship in 2023.

Last June, SpaceX delivered Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station, which marked the first time a SpaceX rocket had been used to transport humans into space.

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