SpaceX Starship SN10 explodes after liftoff at South Padre Island, Texas, US. Reuters
The third time appeared to be the charm for Elon Musk’s Starship rocket - until it wasn’t.
The latest heavy-duty launch vehicle prototype from SpaceX soared flawlessly into the sky in a high-altitude test blast-off on Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas, then flew itself back to Earth to achieve the first upright landing for a Starship model.
But the triumph was short-lived. Listing slightly to one side as an automated fire-suppression system trained a stream of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket, the spacecraft blew itself to pieces about eight minutes after touchdown.
It was the third such landing attempt to end in a fireball after an otherwise successful test flight for the Starship, being developed by SpaceX to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.
For Musk, the billionaire SpaceX founder who also heads the electric carmaker Tesla Inc, the outcome was mixed news.
The Starship SN10 came far closer to achieving a safe, vertical touchdown than two previous models - SN8 in December and SN9 in February. In a tweet responding to tempered congratulations from an admirer of his work, Musk replied, “RIP SN10, honourable discharge.”
The video feed provided by SpaceX on the company’s YouTube channel cut off moments after the landing. But separate fan feeds streamed over the same social media platform showed an explosion suddenly erupting at the base of the rocket, hurling the SN10 into the air before it crashed to the ground and became engulfed in flames.
The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 394-feet (120 metres) tall when mated with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is SpaceX’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle - the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.
A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year’s end. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023.
The rocket fire appears to have originated in Mosul and struck the Iraqi army base in Qayyara, about 60 kilometres (38 miles) south of Mosul.
Before dawn on Thursday, two rockets punched into an empty square near an Iraqi security headquarters in the Green Zone, the security forces said. But an Iraqi security source told the media the intended target appeared to be the US embassy, a sprawling compound a few hundred metres further south on the banks of the Tigris.
On Wednesday, three servicemen, including two Americans, were killed when the base was attacked, the deadliest to target US troops in Iraq since a late December rocket attack on an Iraqi base that killed a US contractor and set in motion a series of tit-for-tat attacks that brought Iraq to the brink of war.
With just five weeks to go until the US presidential election, Elon Musk is still an undecided voter. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO offered up a cagey answer when asked if he would be voting for Donald Trump.
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The number of new infections in a day has more than doubled since early April, with a cumulative total 14.1 million cases. Deaths stood at 1,038, taking the total to 173,123, the data showed.
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