SpaceX’s first high-altitude test flight of its next-generation Starship spacecraft has ended in a massive fireball in South Texas after a mission that went smoothly until the final stage.

The 6 ½-minute flight on Wednesday local time (Thursday morning AEDT) was stable up to the landing attempt, when the Starship failed to slow down enough, video images provided by SpaceX showed. The impact of the rocket, which wasn’t carrying a crew, then engulfed the landing site in orange flames.

SpaceX explosion.

Chief executive officer Elon Musk had predicted only about a one-third chance of success for the initial flight of SN8, Space Exploration Technologies’s futuristic design prototype. The company has made steady progress over the past year on Starship prototypes at its factory in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Starship was attempting to reach about 12,500 metres in the test, also the first flight for SpaceX’s newest Raptor engine. SpaceX also was collecting data on how the vehicle could flip and orient for a powered landing similar to the process for the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 system.


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