SpaceX rocket lands in one piece — before blowing up

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Third time was almost the charm.

SpaceX’s latest prototype rocket landed in one piece on Wednesday — following two recent test flights that ended in huge explosions.

But minutes after cinching the touchdown, the test rocket blew up into a giant fireball.

The Starship Serial Number 10, or (SN10), blasted off from Boca Chica, Texas, at around 6:15 p.m., after an earlier flight attempt was aborted earlier in the afternoon.

The steel rocket flew as high as 10 kilometers, or about 32,800 feet altitude, before turning to a horizontal “belly flop” position and executing a series of complex mid-air moves.

It then came down upright, making a soft landing at around 6:21 p.m.

The Starship leaned slightly as it stood on the landing pad, and flames came out from the bottom, leading some commentators to wonder if it would topple over or blow up.

SpaceX aborted the test of it's prototype SN10 Mars rocket Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in the final moments before liftoff.
SpaceX aborted the test of its prototype SN10 Mars rocket on March 3, 2021, in the final moments before liftoff.
SpaceX

That’s what happened during the company’s last two high-altitude test flights, when the rockets couldn’t stick the landing and exploded into massive fireballs.

While the latest rocket did nail the landing, a blast minutes later caused it to jump back up before disintegrating into flames.

It’s possible a leak in the propellant tank caused the explosion.

John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer narrating the company’s livestream, said the test flight still achieved what it was meant to.

“The key point of today’s test flight was to gather the data on controlling the vehicle while re-entering,” Innsprucker said. “And we were successful in doing so.”

It's possible a leak in the propellant tank caused the explosion.
It’s possible a leak in the propellant tank caused the explosion.
NASA

The prototypes were developed by CEO Elon Musk’s space company in the hopes they’ll one day carry humans on missions to the moon and Mars.

Musk said he was “highly confident” the spacecraft will reach orbit “many times” and be safe for human transport by 2023.

He didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s test flight.


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