SpaceX's SN10 Starship Explodes, Elon Musk Gives It 'Honorable Discharge'

Elon Musk gave the latest Starship test rocket an "honorable discharge" on Wednesday when it unexpectedly exploded minutes after landing.

The SpaceX chief reacted on Twitter after the company's latest prototype, serial number 10 or SN10, erupted into a ball of flames after what was by all accounts a successful touchdown in Boca Chica, Texas.

In spectacular footage, SN10 blasted 6.2 miles into the sky at 6:15 p.m. (ET) before flipping and landing back on Earth—all in just over six minutes.

It was the first time SpaceX had successfully landed a Starship prototype following a high-altitude test—the SN8 and SN9 rockets both exploded on impact.

About 10 minutes after landing, however, SN10 exploded.

"RIP SN10, honorable discharge," Musk tweeted in response to a post from Tim Dodd, a commentator known as the Everyday Astronaut.

In a separate tweet, Musk wrote: "SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace."

After landing, the rocket was seen standing at a tilted angle and some flames could be seen near its base. SpaceX has yet to detail the cause of the explosion, but theories include a propellant tank leak or landing leg issues.

RIP SN10, honorable discharge

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 4, 2021

For a flight intended to collect critical data for future attempts, the launch was considered a win for SpaceX and Musk. Ultimately, the company wants its Starship craft to be used as a transportation system bringing crew and cargo to orbit, the moon and Mars.

On its website, SpaceX described the explosion as a "rapid unscheduled disassembly" and said the launch marked a "great day" for the teams working on Starship. Despite the fireball, it said test flights were "all about improving our understanding."

It explained: "Similar to the high-altitude flight tests of Starship SN8 and SN9, SN10 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee—approximately 10 km in altitude.

"SN10 performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for re-entry and a controlled aerodynamic descent."

A previous launch for SN10 was scrubbed on Wednesday because of an issue with engine thrust. Musk tweeted: "Launch abort on slightly conservative high thrust limit. Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today."

Reflecting on the launch, the Everyday Astronaut agreed that it had been a "huge success" for SpaceX, despite the fiery outcome.

"The landing legs/final touchdown velocity are trivial compared to the rest of the flight profile," Dodd wrote, excitedly adding: "THAT WAS AN EPIC EXPLOSION."

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft
Space enthusiasts look at a prototype Starship at the SpaceX launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on September 28, 2019. The Starship is a massive vehicle meant to take people to the moon, Mars and beyond. Loren Elliott/Getty