SpaceX performed a high-altitude test flight of its Starship prototype space vehicle yesterday, which ended with the vehicle exploding on landing.
This Starship prototype is the second stage of a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that has been under development by SpaceX since 2012.
It is designed to be fully-reuseable, and after development is completed, every stage will be able to land safely back on Earth once they have completed a flight.
NASA has selected SpaceX’s crew-rated Starship system as one of three potential choices for a manned mission to the Moon in 2024.
The Starship vehicle launched from a site in Texas at just after midnight South African time, reaching a peak altitude of 12.5km over the course of the seven-minute-long test flight.
The prototype successfully reached its target altitude, and two of its three main engines shut down as it ascended.
All three engines eventually cut off, and SpaceX opted to perform a “bell flop” manoeuvre upon descent.
This saw the vehicle falling back to Earth in a horizontal orientation and flipping to reignite its engines before it arrived at the landing pad.
There were problems upon landing, however, with the vehicle coming in too fast, and it exploded impressively as it hit the ground.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that the high-altitude test was successful despite the landing problems.
“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” he said on Twitter.
“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed!”
Watch the video of the SpaceX Starship landing attempt below.