SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed the reason behind the massive explosion following the latest Starship test.
Starship SN10 performed a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” on 3 March, roughly eight minutes after successfully landing at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in southern Texas.
It was the first time a Starship prototype had landed after a major flight test, however the third time one of these tests ended in the Mars-bound craft exploding.
Preparations to launch and land Starship SN11 are already underway, though Mr Musk said “multiple fixes” would be needed to prevent it from meeting the same fate.
A combination of low thrust propellent, a heavy impact and crushed landing legs resulted in Starship SN10’s fiery demise, the technology billionaire tweeted on Tuesday.
He also revealed that other methods of recovering Starship safely had also been considered, beyond using rockets and complex artificial intelligence systems to self-land the ship.
Space enthusiast Tim Dodd suggested on Twitter that SpaceX could get rid of landing propellent altogether and add more flaps to reduce the craft’s velocity as it falls to Earth. A system involving “the world’s largest and most ridiculous net” could then be used to catch it.
Mr Musk replied: “Yeah, we talked about that internally. Could just have it land on a big net or bouncy castle. Lacks dignity, but would work. But optimized landing propellent is only ~5 per cent of dry mass, so it’s not a gamechanger.”
Images and video SpaceX preparing for the launch of Starship SN11 have been shared online, though there is still no official word on when the test might take place.
Other Starship prototypes are also under development, with SpaceX hoping to begin mass production of the space craft once testing is complete.
“These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of 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’s website states.
Mr Musk has said hundreds of uncrewed flights will need to take place before people are placed onboard, but has implemented an ambitious timeline for achieving this.
The first crewed flights to Mars could take place as early as 2024, he said last year, with crews of up to 100 people eventually making the trip in the hope of establishing a permanent human colony on the planet.