SpaceX's the Starship SN10 spacecraft touched down successfully after a high-altitude test flight today (March 3), a major milestone for the company and its crewed Mars ambitions. But the vehicle didn't manage to hold itself together, exploding about eight minutes after landing.
The big stainless-steel SN10 (short for "Serial No. 10") launched from SpaceX's South Texas site at 6:15 p.m. EST (2315 GMT), rose 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) into the sky and then came back to Earth for a smooth touchdown 6 minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff.
It was the third high-altitude test flight for a Starship vehicle but the first to feature a successful landing. SN10's two immediate predecessors, SN8 and SN9, flew well during their jaunts — on Dec. 9, 2020 and Feb. 2 of this year, respectively — but both hit the ground hard and ended up in pieces.
"Third time's a charm, as the saying goes," SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker said during SpaceX's launch webcast today. "We've had a successful soft touchdown on the landing pad that’s capping a beautiful test flight of Starship 10."
But that wasn't the end of the story. Some flames were visible near SN10's base shortly after landing, and that was a sign of things to come: the vehicle exploded on the landing pad at about 6:30 p.m. EST (2330 GMT), rising up and crashing down again in a huge fireball.