SpaceX Starship lands safely before exploding into fireball

4 March 2021, 07:00 | Updated: 4 March 2021, 12:09

By Kate Buck

SpaceX's futuristic Starship exploded into a fireball just minutes after what appeared to be a perfect touchdown.

The full-scale prototype of Elon Musk's envisioned Mars ship soared more than six miles after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas on Wednesday.

It descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico, then flipped upright just in time to land.

The shiny bullet-shaped rocket ship remained intact this time at touchdown, prompting SpaceX commentator John Insprucker to declare "third time's a charm as the saying goes", before SpaceX ended its webcast of the test.

But then the Starship exploded and was tossed in the air, before slamming back into the ground in flames.

SpaceX's futuristic Starship looked to have performed a perfect touchdown on Wednesday before exploding
SpaceX's futuristic Starship looked to have performed a perfect touchdown on Wednesday before exploding. Picture: NASA

Two previous test flights crash-landed in fireballs.

There was no immediate comment from SpaceX on what went wrong. But Musk looked on the bright side in a tweet: "Starship 10 landed in one piece!" RIP SN10, honorable discharge."

He added: "SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace."

Musk plans to use Starships to send people to the moon and Mars.

The last two prototypes reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but slammed into the ground at Boca Chica, Texas, and exploded.

Each of these last three test flights lasted six-and-a-half minutes.

Starship missions with people on board are planned for 2023, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa amongst those who have booked a flight around the moon.

Musk has estimated the first crewed mission to Mars could happen as early as 2024 or 2026.