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SpaceX Starship prototype rocket explodes on landing after test launch

BOCA CHICA, TEXAS (REUTERS) – A SpaceX Starship prototype rocket exploded on landing after an otherwise successful high-altitude experimental launch from Boca Chica, Texas, on Tuesday (Feb 2), in a repeat of an accident that destroyed a previous test rocket.

The Starship SN9 that blew up on its final descent, like the SN8 before it, was a prototype for the heavy-lift rocket being developed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private space company to carry humans and 100 tonnes of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

The self-guided, 16-storey-tall rocket initially soared into the clear South Texas sky from its launch pad on what appeared from Nasa-SpaceX livestream coverage to be a flawless liftoff.

Reaching the peak of its flight, the spacecraft then hovered momentarily in midair, shut off its engines and executed a planned “belly-flop” maneuver to descend nose-down under aerodynamic control back toward Earth.

The trouble appeared to come when the Starship, after flipping its nose upward again to begin a final landing sequence, tried to reignite its Raptor thrusters only to have one of them fail to work.

The rocket fell rapidly to the ground in a ball of flames.

The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 120m tall when mated with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is the company’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle – the centre of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.

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