SpaceX Test Flight Ends in Hard Landing, Explosion

After a high-altitude suborbital test flight, the SpaceX craft Starship SN8 exploded upon landing on Wednesday in Texas. No crew members were aboard the rocket.

SN8 had originally been slated to launch on Tuesday, but the flight was canceled near the end of the countdown because of engine issues. After its Wednesday launch, SN8 attempted to reach a height of 40,000 feet. Upon its descent, the rocket appeared to suffer engine failure which caused it to flip into a vertical position.

"SO CLOSE! Starship SN8 exploded right next to its landing pad," tweeted reporter Emre Kelly.

SO CLOSE! Starship SN8 exploded right next to its landing pad. pic.twitter.com/KdQF5YUrBE

— Emre Kelly (@EmreKelly) December 9, 2020

Despite the craft's fiery return to Earth, Musk seemed pleased with the final results.

"Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!" Musk tweeted on Wednesday. "RUD" stands for "rapid unscheduled disassembly," the euphemism Musk prefers for a ship's unplanned destruction.

Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2020

The flight was, according to a November tweet by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, designed to test "3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip." Musk also indicated that there was a chance that the Starship could not land in one piece.

"Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance," Musk tweeted. "But that's why we have SN 9 & SN10."

But that’s why we have SN 9 & SN10

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 25, 2020

Newsweek reached out to SpaceX for comment.

elon musk SpaceX rocket explodes
SpaceX founder Elon Musk had expressed doubt that SN8 would land safely after its Wednesday test flight. Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty

According to the SpaceX website, the success of the test flight "is not measured by completion of specific directives but rather how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship." Starship is designed to be a reusable system which is expected to be used for space exploration.

Despite being a private company, SpaceX has partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on space travel projects. In November, the SpaceX Crew Dragon craft, powered by the Falcon 9 rocket, carried 4 individuals to the International Space Station. The astronauts are expected to remain on the space station for 6 months.

Space exploration has become a point of focus for the administration of President Donald Trump. In 2019, Trump announced the formation of the U.S. Space Force, the sixth official branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. At the time, Trump referred to outer space as "the world's newest warfighting domain."

Trump has also promised to further explore the reaches of space. During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said that the U.S. would return to the Moon and set foot on Mars.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence introduced a team of 18 astronauts, collectively known as the Artemis Generation, who are expected to conduct research on the lunar surface. The Artemis program is also expected to land the first woman astronaut on the moon.

"Through our Artemis program," Trump said in a Wednesday statement, "the United States is working hand-in-hand with commercial and international partners to return to the Moon—this time to stay—and prepare for the next great American adventure, the giant leap to Mars."