Watch the terrifying moment Elon Musk's SpaceX Starship SN10 exploded - and find out why it happened

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 12:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 12:17 pm

SpaceX’s latest rocket test launch saw prototype Starship SN10 light up the Texas sky before exploding on landing.

Though the test flight ended in flames it has been deemed a success as the first Starship rocket to touch down before the subsequent explosion.

The space exploration company, owned by Elon Musk, wants its new Starship rocket to be involved in Nasa’s return to the Moon in 2024.

Here’s what happened to SpaceX SN10 and what the future holds for the programme.

What happened to SpaceX SN10?

The uncrewed launch saw the SN10 (serial number 10) rocket rise vertically from its site in Cameron County, Texas.

Powered by three Raptor engines, the rocket reached its target height of roughly 10km, before completing a series of planned tasks and coming back down to Earth.

Each engine shut down in a sequence prior to the SN10 reaching its scheduled height to enable the vehicle to lean over into the horizontal position for the drop back down.

The descent, which has been described as a belly-flop, offers a larger surface area to slow the re-entry down - simulating how fully operational Starships would return to Earth from missions.

Large flaps at either end of the SN10 prototype help control the direction and speed before it transitions back to an upright position before landing tail-down on the Earth's surface.

The SN10 was the first of the programmes's vehicles to get this right after its predecessors - SN8 and SN9 - both failed to adopt the correct position and speed for a safe landing.

The decision to reignite the Raptor engines ahead of the landing to provide the necessary braking thrust, is thought to be a major contribution to the SN10's success.

Why did SpaceX SN10 blow up?

Like most tests, there were lessons to be learned, and that came in the moments after the SN10 touched down on the concrete Texas surface.

The legs deployed at touchdown appeared to collapse and, as water hoses attempted to extinguish a fire at the base of SN10, it sprung upwards and exploded.

Watch the video to see how SN10 went out in a blaze of glory.

Why is it being heralded as a success?

It was the first time one of the SpaceX Starships had touched down after a high-altitude test flight, giving the company plenty to be cheerful about.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter: “Starship SN10 landed in one piece.”

A statement on the SpaceX website read: “As if the flight test was not exciting enough, SN10 experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after landing.

“All in all a great day for the Starship teams – these test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.

“Congratulations to the entire Starship and SpaceX teams on the flight test!”

What next for the SpaceX Starship rocket?

With nine more Starship prototypes already in production, it won’t be long before the SN11 takes to the skies with the aim of emulating the success of the SN10.

SpaceX is yet to launch a booster - expected to have double the power of the Apollo Saturn 5, which sent man to the moon - called Super Heavy.

The height of Super Heavy (70m) and Starship (50m) will tower above all other rockets at a monstrous 120m tall.

SpaceX sees Starships replacing its existing Falcon rockets which currently carry out crewed and uncrewed missions for Nasa and other commercial partners.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants the Starship to carry passengers around the Earth, to the Moon, and even further to Mars.