SpaceX's latest next-generation Starship space vehicle exploded into a fireball on completing its first high-altitude suborbital flight attempt. However, the spectacular explosion belied the success of the test flight of SpaceX SN8 Starship, which lasted six minutes and 42 seconds.
The SN8 spaceship's first high-altitude flight was successful on a whole bunch of metrics, except for the hard landing, which Musk had cautioned about before the launch.
The unmanned spaceship lifted off from the Boca Chica facility in Texas in what was supposed to be a brief flight taking the craft to an altitude of 41,000 feet.
The craft, which Musk says is the future for his SpaceX company, was supposed to test manoeuvres including a belly-facing re-entry to Earth's atmosphere, which would then lead to a late-stage flip to vertical flight before the touchdown.
However, in the last stage during the vertical switchback, the ship approached the landing pad with speeds greater than expected, leading to the explosion on impact.
Musk, who had forewarned SpaceX fans about a possible hitch in the experiment, exuded confidence after the fireball landing.
"Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high ... but we got all the data we needed!" he wrote. "Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah ... Mars, here we come!!," Musk said in tweets following the test.
He reiterated that the ascent was successful and the switchover to header tanks and the flap control to landing point was precise.
The Starship lifted off its launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, around 2:45 p.m. PT Wednesday hours after a launch was aborted at the last minute on Tuesday.
What SpaceX Wants to Achieve
Wednesday's test flight brings the Starship project closer to its goal of a successful trip to Mars. But the pioneering space company admits it's still a long way to go for the Starship, which Musk believes will transform the economics of space travel. "This suborbital flight is designed to test a number of objectives, from how the vehicle's three Raptor engines perform, and the overall aerodynamic entry capabilities of the vehicle, including its body flaps, to how the vehicle manages propellant transition," SpaceX had said before the launch.
SpaceX now plans to fly another prototype, SN9. Musk said in June that the Starship is now his number-one priority. Nasa explored the potential of the SpaceX Starship landing on the lunar surface. However, Musk has revealed that his ambition goes past this milestone, and that he would see people landing on Mars in the next two to four years.