Elon Musk reveals why SpaceX Starship SN10 exploded after landing

SN10’s touchdown was more crunchy than soft.


On March 3, SpaceX finally appeared to make a soft landing of the latest prototype for its next-generation Mars rocket. But several minutes later, SN10, as the third prototype to make a high-altitude test flight was known, made an unscheduled second flight after it exploded on the landing pad.

Elon Musk explained on Tuesday that the landing was actually a bit more crunchy than soft.

“Impact of 10 m/s (22 miles per hour) crushed legs & part of skirt,” the SpaceX founder tweeted.

A close look at the landing of SN10 reveals it came in a little hot and fast. It even appeared to bounce slightly upon touching down.

On the live webcast of the mission, there’s a long silent pause (almost a full minute) from SpaceX commentator John Insprucker after landing as SN10 sat on the pad, slightly leaning to one side and a little bit on fire, apparently uncertain if it would like to tip over and take a long permanent nap.

But SN10 didn’t tip and Insprucker eventually declared a successful soft landing.

However, the consequence of the crushed landing legs and skirt seems to have been some of SN10’s fuel ending up where it shouldn’t have been a few minutes later, causing it to explode just like its two prototype predecessors did.

SN8 and SN9 both came in for very hard landings. SN10 almost nailed it, but Musk said that a fuel issue led to low thrust on the landing burn and that leg-crunching touchdown.

“Multiple fixes in work for SN11,” Musk tweeted.

Meanwhile, SN11 has already made an appearance on the pad at the SpaceX Starship development center in Boca Chica, Texas,  where it will soon begin testing prior to its own flight and landing attempt. 

Here’s hoping SN11 is the first of its brethren to survive the experience in one piece.

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