SpaceX has completed the latest test of its Mars-bound Starship spacecraft, marking another milestone towards Elon Musk’s Mars ambitions.
The high-altitude test of Starship SN10 was the first major flight test of a Starhip prototype to land on the launchpad, with both SN8 and SN9 both crashing in a fiery explosion upon landing.
Roughly eight minutes after landing, however, SN10 exploded in a massive fireball.
SpaceX did not immediately comment on the incident but expert observers speculated that it was the result of a rough landing combined with a methane leak.
Shortly before the explosion, video footage captured Starship SN10 leaning at a slight angle.
The test took place at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas on Wednesday following several delays.
Despite the explosion, the test represents significant progress in SpaceX’s development of Starship.
SpaceX stated ahead of the flight test that a controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability is “critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system” where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist.
“This capability will enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond,” the firm said.
The earliest crewed Starship missions are planned for 2023, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa already booked in for a flight around the moon.
The first crewed missions to Mars could then occur either in 2024 or 2026 at the earliest, according to Mr Musk.