SpaceX launched a 16-story prototype of its Starship Mars rocket system 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) above Boca Chica, Texas on Tuesday.
The prototype, called SN9, was supposed to attempt a soft landing, but the spaceship slammed into the ground sideways and exploded.
This is the second time the aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk, has launched such an ambitious Starship flight and seen the vehicle destroyed upon landing.
Through the south Texas haze on Tuesday, SpaceX pulled off a stunning high-altitude test flight of a Starship rocket prototype. But the vehicle failed to stick its landing.
The roughly 16-story test vehicle, called Starship serial No. 9, met the same fate as its predecessor, SN8: It slammed into the landing pad, resulting in a catastrophic explosion.
SN9 lifted off a pad in Boca Chica, a remote strip of land in southeastern Texas, around 3:25 p.m. ET under the thrust of three truck-size Raptor rocket engines. The vehicle then soared to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), gradually cutting its engines on the way up.
Using just one engine, SN9 hovered at the peak of its flight for about 30 seconds, then cut that engine and belly-flopped toward the ground. The test emphasized Starship's need to control its descent from space using small wings.
As SN9 fell back to Earth, the rocket reignited its engines in an attempt to quickly turn itself upright. But it appeared to lack enough thrust from at least one engine, causing the ship to lean to its other side and hit a concrete pad at an angle, exploding its remaining fuel reserves. SpaceX confirmed Tuesday night via its website that one of the engines failed to reignite during the landing attempt.
Chunks of the steel ship flew thousands of feet into nearby coastal prairie. When the dust and smoke cleared, only the charred residue of SN9 remained.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that it would be overseeing an investigation into the explosive landing, just as it did when the SN8 flight didn't go as planned.
"The FAA's top priority in regulating commercial space transportation is ensuring that operations are safe, even if there is an anomaly," an FAA spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Insider. "Although this was an uncrewed test flight, the investigation will identify the root cause of today's mishap and possible opportunities to further enhance safety as the program develops."
S: Business Insider