SpaceX successfully deployed a prototype of the Starship next-generation spacecraft on March 3, only for it to explode a few minutes later. At around 6:15 p.m. Eastern, the Starship SN10 vehicle took off from the firm’s Boca Chica, Texas, testing facility. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, tweeted that a launch effort three hours earlier was abandoned at engine ignition due to a “marginally moderate-high thrust cap.”
The SN10 flight maintained a pattern identical to the two previous flights, SN8 on December 9 and SN9 on February 2. Mostly during ascent, the vehicle closed down its three Raptor engines in series, reaching an expected peak altitude of ten kilometers. The vehicle later performed a “belly flop” maneuver to return to its landing platform in a horizontal position.
After spinning back to the vertical orientation on the two previous Starship test flights, SpaceX had trouble reigniting two Raptor engines needed for a powered landing. On this landing attempt, SpaceX modified the procedure, lighting all three engines and then shutting down two as required for the landing. That appeared to be successful. Around six minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff, the vehicle gently landed on the pad rather than crashing and exploding. The car seemed to be tipping slightly but otherwise intact on video — at least at first.
“As the phrase goes, the third time’s the charm,” stated John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer who conducted the company’s live webcast of the flight. “A lovely soft arrival of Starship on Boca Chica landing pad.” The webcast was cut off at that stage, but subsequent webcasts revealed that an explosion occurred at the vehicle’s core about eight minutes after arrival. The vehicle was launched into the air by the explosion and landed several seconds later on the pad. While neither SpaceX nor Musk responded instantly to the explosion, webcasts displayed hoses spraying water at the vehicle’s base in the minutes leading up to the blast.
The next model, SN11, is “ready to roll out to the pad in the very near future,” according to Insprucker. The flight took place just one day after Starship’s first customer unveiled new mission plans. Yusaku Maezawa, who is a Japanese billionaire, announced in September 2018 that he had booked a flight of the aircraft, known at the time as BFR, for a circumlunar trip in the year 2023. Maezawa will travel with up to 8 artists on that flight, dubbed “dearMoon.”