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SpaceX just nailed the first Starship rocket landing. Then it exploded

In its third high-altitude test flight, a prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket landed successfully for the first time. But just minutes after returning to the launchpad, a massive explosion completely destroyed the rocket. Hit the play button on the viewer at the top of this page to watch the launch and landing.

Below is a clip of the explosion.

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An amazing shot of Starship SN10's post-landing Rapid Unplanned Disassembly (RUD) after Wednesday's test flight.


— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) March 3, 2021

The successful landing of the Starship SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s test site in Boca Chica, Texas, on Wednesday, March 3, follows two earlier tests that ended in dramatic fireballs when the rocket landed too heavily on its return to Earth. It’s currently unclear what caused Wednesday’s explosion.

Before now, SpaceX had landed several Starship prototypes in so-called “hop” tests that took the rocket only a short distance into the sky. In that case, SpaceX is certain to be delighted with its first-ever successful landing following a high-altitude flight, with today’s six-and-a-half-minute mission taking it about 6.2 miles above Earth.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk later tweeted, “Starship SN10 landed in one piece!”, though he made no reference to the explosion, which occurred before he posted his message.

Starship SN10 landed in one piece!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 4, 2021

When SpaceX finally perfects its Starship technology, the company will launch the second-stage booster — which also acts as a spacecraft — atop the massive first-stage Super Heavy rocket, powered by 31 Raptor engines.

The long-term goal is to use the Starship and Super Heavy rocket as a fully reusable space transportation system for carrying as many as 100 people and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.

A mission using the Starship system to take Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and others on a flypast of the moon is tentatively scheduled for 2023. For a few minutes after today’s landing, many might have started to think it could happen. But the subsequent explosion suggests there’s still much work to be done before any humans climb aboard Starship.

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