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SpaceX's Starship prototype explodes once more when trying to land after a profitable launch

The spacecraft prototype of the SN9 rocket explodes on impact after a test flight at high altitude on February 2, 2021.


The latest prototype of SpaceX's next-generation spacecraft rocket was successfully launched on Tuesday, but exploded on impact during a landing attempt after the company's final test flight.

The spaceship prototype Serial Number 9 or SN9 was designed to fly up to 10 kilometers or about 32,800 feet in altitude. The flight was similar to the SpaceX conducted in December when the prototype SN8 took off on the tallest and longest flight to date.

But like the SN8 flight, although the missile flew successfully, it did not hold the landing on its return.

"We had another great flight … we just need to work a little on this landing," SpaceX Principal Integration Engineer John Insprucker said on the company's webcast of the flight.

The rocket prototypes are made of stainless steel and represent the early versions of the rocket that CEO Elon Musk unveiled last year. The company is developing Starship with the aim of bringing cargo and up to 100 people simultaneously on missions to the moon and Mars.

CEO Elon Musk drew the company's attention to Starship in May after SpaceX successfully launched its first astronaut mission. He named Starship a top priority for the company and stated in an email received from CNBC last year that the development program needs to be accelerated "dramatically and immediately."

While Starship SN9 suffered the same explosive fate as SN8 two months ago, SpaceX sees the test flight as an advance in the rocket's development. SN10, likely the next to attempt a takeoff and landing, was already there when SN9 took to the skies.

Starship's SN9 (right) and SN10 prototype missiles on launch pads at the company's development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.


Musk previously said that Starship could potentially fly humans in 2020, but he has since acknowledged that the rocket still has many milestones, including "hundreds of missions", before it does.

Several prototypes are being built at the same time at SpaceX's growing facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The SN10 rocket has already been rolled out on a second launchpad nearby. While the SpaceX fleet of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are partially reusable, Musk's goal is to make Starship fully reusable – introducing a rocket that looks more like an airliner and has short turnaround times between flights where the the only major cost are fuel.

The Starship prototype SN9 stands on the launchpad at the SpaceX development facility in Boca Chica, Texas at sunset.


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