SpaceX has finally managed to land its massive Starship rocket in one piece. Well, at least for several minutes.
The 165-foot stainless steel structure lifted off at around 6:15 pm EST on Wednesday, and its maiden voyage ticked most of the checkboxes: the belly flop, the burn to flip itself upright, the landing.
One checkbox, though — the "not exploding" one — remains elusive. Minutes after SpaceX cut off its official live stream of the event, a violent explosion kicked the entire rocket high up into the air, bringing it crashing down to Earth seconds later, obliterated.
SN10 was no more. All that's left is a massive pile of twisted steel.
But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk focused on the bright side.
"Starship SN10 landed in one piece!" Musk tweeted after the prototype's demise. "SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace."
He also acknowledged the rocket's demise, writing "RIP" and granting it an "honorable discharge."
The test launch was something we've never seen before — a testament to SpaceX's engineering prowess. But at the same time, it was the third Starship explosion in as many tests — and, as such, a sign of the rising stakes for the ambitious and expensive project.
Elon Musk intends Starship to enable permanent human settlements on Mars and the Moon — and many more Starships may have to be sacrificed before the first brave astronauts step aboard one.
The real question right now is how many. True to form, Musk's timeline is aggressive: SpaceX has another nine months or so to launch the first Starship spacecraft into orbit, and only two years to send one all the way around the Moon and back.
SpaceX is clearly willing to throw all of its weight behind the project, launching three separate full-scale prototypes in less than four months. And already — arguably — it has plenty to show for it.
But the company still has a lot of work to do, as evidenced by the latest Starship wreckage. And whether it ultimately succeeds is anyone's guess.
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