A test of a prototype rocket that Elon Musk dreams of sending people to Mars flew several miles high on Wednesday. But trying to land, it landed too quickly on the ground and exploded.
This was the most recent, partially successful, test in the development of next-generation spacecraft built by SpaceX, Mr. Musk's rocket company.
SpaceX's live broadcast showed the smoldering remains of the Starship rocket at the company's test site in southern Texas. "Awesome Test" read text on the broadcast screen after the fiery conclusion. "Congratulations Starship Team!"
A voice on the broadcast noticed that 911 was called.
With the late afternoon sun on the horizon, the gigantic stainless steel spaceship lifted off a launch pad at 5:45 p.m. After it peaked, it began to fall as planned and toppled back to earth in a controlled manner.
Close to the ground, it straightened itself back up into a vertical orientation and fired its three engines to slow down – but not enough. Upon impact, approximately 6 minutes, 40 seconds after take-off, it disintegrated into a ball of fire, leaving a cloud of smoke that rose over the test site.
Still, it was an advance in SpaceX's development efforts. Earlier prototypes fell apart without ever leaving the ground during tests that simply pumped ultra-cold liquid propellants into the missile's tanks.
SpaceX has grown successful in the startup business and is now the most valuable private company in the world. The Falcon 9 missiles have become a dominant workhorse for sending satellites into orbit. It routinely carries cargo to the International Space Station and has lifted NASA astronauts there twice this year. Further trips are planned for 2021.
However, many are skeptical when Mr Musk says the company is only a few years away from sending a spaceship to Mars, and he has repeatedly set schedules for SpaceX that have proven far too optimistic about how quickly it came about are.
Last year, when he came up with an update on Starship's development, he said an altitude test would be done within months and orbital flights could take place earlier this year.
Instead, multiple catastrophic failures occurred due to faulty welding. When the fuel tanks stopped bursting, one of the prototypes made a brief successful flight in September. The earlier Starship model, which resembled a spray can with the label removed, rose nearly 500 feet on a single rocket engine before being dropped off at the test site in Texas near the village of Boca Chica.
While SpaceX is far from equaling Mr. Musk's Mars machinations, the piece of his company he hopes will fund trips to and from the red planet clinched a victory this week. Since 2019, SpaceX has put hundreds of satellites into low-earth orbit to create a constellation called Starlink, which aims to deliver high-speed internet services from space. One of Starlink's stated goals is to provide broadband access to underserved locations.
On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would be awarding billions of dollars in funding to a number of Internet service providers to expand broadband access in such locations, and SpaceX received an award of $ 885 million.