The third time seemed to be the charm of Elon Musk’s Starship rocket – until it wasn’t.
SpaceX’s latest prototype heavy launch vehicle hovered perfectly in the sky during a high-altitude take-off test Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas, then flew to Earth to perform the first vertical landing. a model of a spaceship.
But the triumph was short-lived. Quoted slightly to the side as an automatic fire extinguisher system caused a jet of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket, the spacecraft broke to pieces about eight minutes after touching down. wheels.
This was the third such landing attempt that ended in a fireball after an otherwise successful test flight for the Starship, developed by SpaceX to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the Moon and on Mars.
For Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX who also runs electric car maker Tesla, the outcome has been mixed.
The Starship SN10 came much closer to a safe vertical landing than the two previous models – SN8 in December and SN9 in February. In a tweet responding to temperate congratulations from an admirer of his work, Musk replied, “RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”
The video feed provided by SpaceX on the company’s YouTube channel was interrupted moments after landing. But separate fan streams broadcast on the same social media platform showed an explosion suddenly erupted at the base of the rocket, throwing the SN10 into the air before it crashes to the ground and ignites. .
The Complete Starship rocket, which will stand 120 meters tall when paired with its super-heavy first-stage thruster, is SpaceX’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle – the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human travel more affordable. and routine.
A first Starship orbital flight is scheduled for the end of the year. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023.