The third time was almost the charm for SpaceX’s latest flight test.
The Elon Musk-headed space company conducted a test flight of its SN10 Starship prototype on Wednesday, and made a soft landing though landing legs appeared to malfunction and a fire appeared to ignite as the vehicle landed. A few minutes later, the spacecraft exploded on the landing pad.
The test saw the spacecraft fly up more than 6 miles and conduct a “belly flop” maneuver before righting itself to land vertically with a slight tilt.
Musk shared a positive reaction to the test.
"Starship SN10 landed in one piece" he tweeted.
The uncrewed flight was SpaceX’s third high-altitude suborbital test for one of its prototype Starship spacecraft. The last test, in early February, ended with the SN9 prototype exploding during its descent.
The reusable – when it doesn’t explode – spacecraft uses an onboard computer to control its descent to a landing pad. SpaceX had the Starship perform a “landing flip maneuver” before touching down, using the Raptor engines again to slow its descent and land vertically.
An earlier launch attempt on Wednesday was aborted “on slightly conservative high thrust limit,” Musk Tweeted. “Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today.”
The SN10 prototype was powered by three of SpaceX’s Raptor engines.
The Starship is 160 feet tall and has a 30-foot diameter. It is designed to carry both passengers and cargo, and SpaceX says it can carry more than 100 metric tons into orbit.
It is one of three spacecraft NASA has pegged for future lunar missions, and SpaceX has said it plans for its Starships to eventually travel to Mars. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is due to become one of SpaceX’s first civilian passengers in a mission that will do a lunar fly-by, according to SpaceX. That flight is currently scheduled for 2023.
The test flight occurred at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Musk recently made a personal move to the Lone Star state, and FOX Business reported this week that SpaceX is adding a third facility in Texas with a manufacturing plant in Austin.