SpaceX Starship test ends in explosion

'At least the crater is in the right place,' says Elon Musk as prototype spacecraft crashes for fourth time

The latest test of Elon Musk's Starship prototype ended with debris raining down on the SpaceX launch facility on Tuesday after another catastrophic failure.

Livestream footage showed a bright orange flash followed by pieces of the SN11 prototype falling among the palm trees at the Boca Chica test site.

Foggy conditions on the ground and problems with SpaceX's own camera feed meant it was not immediately clear what had caused the failure.

“Another exciting test, as we say,” said SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker during the company's live stream.

It is the fourth time that a Starship has suffered a dramatic failure during a test, with the previous prototype SN10 exploding shortly after executing a soft landing at the end of a high-altitude flight.

Mr Musk confirmed on Twitter that the 50-metre-long prototype had crashed.

The SpaceX chief suggested that "something significant" had taken place shortly after one of the spacecraft's engines began to execute a landing burn, adding that engineers were working to establish the cause of the crash.

Scientists and enthusiasts alike are hooked on every turn of the company's ambitious testing schedule.

The company has so far been unable to successfully complete a high altitude test flight.

In Tuesday's test, which had been delayed twice, SN11 climbed to a height of 10 kilometres before flipping over into a horizontal orientation for the descent, guided by its aerodynamic fins.

It was then meant to use its engines to slow down and land vertically in similar fashion to the company's Falcon 9 rockets.

The SN10 prototype takes off on an earlier ill-fated test flight on March 3. AFP Photo / SpaceX
The SN10 prototype takes off on an earlier ill-fated test flight on March 3. AFP Photo / SpaceX

SpaceX hopes Starship will one day carry humans to the Moon and Mars.

Mr Musk said earlier this month that SpaceX will be landing Starships on the red planet “well before 2030”.

Starship will eventually sit on top of the company's Super Heavy booster rocket, enabling it to carry a payload of 100 tonnes into space.

The first prototype booster was unveiled by the SpaceX founder earlier this month. Standing 70 metres tall, it is constructed of the same distinctive stainless steel as the Starship.

SpaceX already has Starship missions planned, with Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and eight other passengers due to undertake the first private lunar mission on a planned launch date of 2023.

Updated: March 30, 2021 11:06 PM

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