The third time is a charm? Not so for SpaceX, whose unmanned rocket exploded on the ground on Wednesday after completing what appeared to be a successful flight and landing – fresh on the heel of two fiery crashes.
It was another flub with a prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX one day hopes to send to Mars.
“A beautiful soft landing,” said a SpaceX commentator on a live broadcast of the test flight, even though the flames came out at the bottom and the crews tried to extinguish them.
The rocket exploded a few minutes later, crashed into the air and crashed back to the ground.
No explanation was given immediately.
“Starship SN10 landed in one piece!” Musk tweeted jokingly about an hour after the explosion.
“The SpaceX team is doing an amazing job! One day, the real measure of success will be that Starship flights are common,” he said in a second tweet.
The latest prototype, named SN10, for serial number 10, launched just before 2320 GMT from Boca Chica, Texas.
The rocket rose into the sky and gradually shut down its three engines when it reached an altitude of 60 miles (10 kilometers) and took a horizontal position before becoming vertical again and returning to Earth.
As can be seen on the SpaceX video, it otherwise seemed to have landed properly after the flight. Then came the explosion.
To Mars or the moon
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has developed the next-generation Starship rocket with the aim of going to Mars – although two prototypes (SN8 and SN9) exploded in a spectacular way during their test runs in December and early February.
The tests take place in an almost deserted area leased by SpaceX in southern Texas near the border with Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico – the area is large and empty enough that an accident or explosion would not likely cause injury or death.
Apart from Mars, the rocket, if operational, could also be useful for closer travel, especially to the moon.
On Wednesday, Japanese billionaire and online fashion magnet Yusaku Maezawa, who paid an undiscovered sum for a SpaceX spacecraft expected to launch in 2023 at the earliest, threw the application process for eight people from around the world to join him.
He announced the move in a video posted on Twitter where Musk tells potential applicants: “I am very confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023 and that it will be safe enough for human transport by 2023. very promising.”
The mission will be the first private spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit, Musk said.