After two setbacks, a prototype of the new “Starship” rocket landed safely for the first time on a test flight by the private space company SpaceX – and only then exploded. During the test on Wednesday in the US state of Texas, which the company broadcast live, the unmanned rocket landed safely on the ground shortly after takeoff – and then went up in flames a few minutes later.
Why the missile exploded was not initially clear. “The main goal of today’s test flight was to collect enough data on how to control the spaceship when it reenters (into the earth’s atmosphere),” said SpaceX engineer John Insprucker. “And we achieved that successfully.” A few hours earlier, a first attempt had been aborted a fraction of a second before the planned start, but the engineers decided to try again shortly afterwards.
Landing failed in two previous tests in December and February:
In December, a prototype exploded on landing due to a problem with the fuel system. The speed of the unmanned missile on approach was too high, said SpaceX founder Elon Musk after the test.
In February, a prototype fell to the ground on the test site because of a technical defect, apparently unchecked, and was engulfed in a ball of fire. The rocket had successfully completed a series of test maneuvers in a horizontal position. The problems began when the missile attempted to turn back into a vertical position to land.
SpaceX intends to use the test flights to test individual parts of the rocket.
According to the plans of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the 120-meter-long “Starship” rocket will one day transport cargo and people to the moon and Mars. The special feature: It should be completely reusable. To achieve this, she has to perform a turning maneuver in the air and then land back on the ground in a controlled manner. The rocket should also be used where there are neither launch ramps nor ideal landing sites – for example on Mars.
The private US company SpaceX has already established itself in space travel with the Falcon-9 rocket. The first routine mission of a manned SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station started in November.