SpaceX Starship Explodes After A Near Perfect Landing (Video)


After weeks of trying, SpaceX on Wednesday finally succeeded in landing its Mars Starship booster. But five minutes after touchdown—possibly due to a methane leak—the rocket exploded in a spectacular ball of fire on the Boca Chica, Texas, recovery pad.

Two previous attempts to land the booster after successful low-altitude test flights ended in fiery explosions or what SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls a RUD, for rapid unscheduled disassembly. In Wednesday’s test, designated SN10, the booster flew to a planned low altitude, completed its transition maneuver and backed down toward the pad on two engines. It touched down successfully, albeit at a slight tilt due to one of the six landing legs either failing to deploy properly or failing on touchdown.

As dust and gas clouds cleared after the landing, the rocket exploded in a spectacular fireball about five minutes later. The rocket rose briefly during the event before impacting on its side. Earlier in the day, the first launch attempt was aborted when onboard computers detected uneven thrust and shut the engines down before liftoff. SpaceX refueled the vehicle, tweaked the software and completed the launch near dusk.

“The key point of today’s test flight was to gather the data on controlling the vehicle while re-entering. And we were successful in doing so,” said John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer who narrated the live video of the launch. Earlier in the week, Musk said the Starship system would be ready to launch people into orbit as soon as 2023. Ultimately, the Starship is designed to carry humans to Mars, which Musk has said will happen by 2026, just five years away. Musk has sketched out plans to eventually colonize Mars. SpaceX has a number of Starships in production to sustain what has been an impressive launch cadence. The company said SN19 is now being built.

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  1. A fiery ball of flames an complete loss of the vehicle at a precise point on the planet is only “near perfect” if we were talking about an ICBM. Since this ai about manned space flight then this is called a disaster.

      • I was pointing out that this was as “near perfect” as the Kenosha riots were “mostly peaceful”. Captions no longer match the pictures.

        • Shockingly, Arthur F. comes in without all of the information. Again.
          We do believe that it blew up, BTW. But we know it was successful, as well. You can have both, ya know. (You don’t know, I know). You can be pro-troops, and anti-war. You can be pro-choice, and anti-abortion. You can be a curmudgeon seeing only trees, in a vast forest.

          • Being pro-troops IS being anti-war so you CAN be both.
            Being pro-death IS NOT being pro-life so you CANNOT be both.

      • Huh?

        ‘Near’ doesn’t count.
        As in ‘near the runway’ on contact with earth, and ‘nearly cleared the mountain’ as with most CFIT accidents. Both usually fatal.

        Tweaking software at the last minute is experimentation/prototype work, not for flight near other people nor with people on board.

        • Looks like a Tesla-esq ‘OTA’ update/shortcut. Like when the Model 3 was panned by Consumer Reports for poor braking which was ‘fixed’ by an OTA which increased regenerative braking. Works for cars but not rockets it seems.

    • Have to disagree with the initial post, I’m almost positive this wasn’t a manned spaceflight, so doubtful it constitutes a “disaster”. Sometimes during development and test things don’t go right, and I’m fairly certain that is why they do development & test rather than building a single final product and launching it cold with a full crew on board. But of course that’s just my opinion.

    • Obviously a failure to successfully land the craft. If the craft cannot be used again it is not a good landing.

      On the other hand it did take off and fly without exploding, so that’s an improvement and I have to give them credit for having it at least impact its intended final resting place.

      I do believe they will eventually succeed in landing and reusing the spacecraft, but I’m not sure I would trust their workmanship or work ethic to get me home safely if I were to fly in it.

      It sounds like they tried a Tesla style ‘over the air update’ between launch attempts when they should have fixed something mechanical.

  2. Near perfect?
    Three of the six landing legs flopped around during descent, it bounced hard on landing and stood like the tower of Pisa with flames at the bottom.
    If thats near perfect for the Musk fans…

    • While we sit, lamenting of the passing of lighted airways, four-course radio ranges, loran; and bemoan the use of GPS and heaven forbid, the dreaded iPad…..

      Meantime, Musk and his team are making regular trips, some manned, to the ISS. And in his spare time, perfecting spot landings with a vehicle with ever changing CG and the complexity the Wright brothers never dreamed of.

      Let’s whip out the whiz wheel and slide rule and we’ll show him what aviating is all about.

    • What’s the point of tossing out snarky comments about “Musk fans”? I’m not a fan of him personally but I can’t help but be excited about what SpaceX is doing. And I find it hilarious that these same comments were coming in when SpaceX was trying and mostly failing to land their Falcon 9 boosters. Now they’ve nailed it and it’s almost routine.

      And apparently we’ve collectively forgotten that this is just how it’s done, as far back as the 60s when NASAs work to modify the Atlas rocket into a spacecraft booster resulted in numerous, often spectacular, launch failures. Those too were well-publicized by the media, giving the impression that our rockets always blew up during launch. I seem to recall that they successfully worked through it and did things like sending John Glen up into orbit.

    • Musk fans are almost a cult. Granted a person can like what he does and not be in the cult, but in general they are easier to understand if taken in that context.

      My distain for the man has more to do with what he has done to the auto industry with Tesla. Space-X offends me much less.

  3. What’s being missed here… especially by this community… is really more interesting than the landing difficulties. All three of these flights have successfully demonstrated using areo surfaces to glide this massive booster back to a precise spot on the surface. That was the major unknown for Spacex in this test program.
    They will get the landing issue sorted. No aerospace on the planet has more experience in landing orbital boosters… in fact they are the only company doing so. The Falcon series has over 70 landings and are flying reused boosters more than new. The Starship is a different beast, but they’ll get it. They crashed a bunch of Falcons perfecting those systems.

    • “What’s being missed here… especially by this community… is really more interesting than the landing difficulties”. Actually jonmark this “community” is made up of more than a couple of regular Musk naysayers whose naysaying is not worth dignifying with replies. Most of us are not missing the fact that SpaceX is “hardware rich” (credit Paul B) and is using its hardware to gather priceless data and learning from it.

  4. Had it landed on the failed landing legs and “not” exploded, would it have been referred to as a “near disastrous” landing? How many times have we heard sports announcers say the gymnast or figure skater nearly “stuck” the landing? It’s no different here. SN10 nearly “stuck” the landing. I’d give it an 8.5 out of 10! Previous landings were in the 6.5-7.0 range.

    • The spacecraft was not reusable.

      The landing gets a ‘0’

      I give the flight itself a 9.

  5. Looked like it hit Harding that ruptured the tank, or something… NASA had recoverable boosters that worked. Why not use that tech?

    • Richard… what NASA program are you referring? Shuttle? Only marginally reusable… tank was thrown away… SRB’s only saved the steel casings and main engines went through a complete rebuild each flight.
      SpaceX’s Falcon is operationally reusable and has been for years now. They rarely loose a booster anymore. (@ in the last 30 or so recoveries). The Falcon mission last weekend used a booster already flown and recovered eight times. Now it will fly a ninth time.
      NASA has historically thrown away every launch booster they operated. Redstone, Atlas, Titan, Saturn. Even their new perpetually developing SLS heavy lift system will be single use. Millions thrown into the Atlantic after each flight.

  6. Looked like it hit hard during that landing and ruptured the tank, or something… NASA had recoverable boosters that worked. Why not use that tech?