On Tuesday, a SpaceX Starship prototype exploded while attempting to land, the fourth consecutive test launch to end up in flames in recent months.
SpaceX launched the SN11 prototype from its Boca Chica, Texas, facility for a high-altitude test, with a goal of having the spacecraft execute a "belly flop" maneuver in space before returning to Earth in a controlled vertical soft landing. Elon Musk's space company is developing Starship as its heavy launch vehicle that the company hopes will eventually travel to the Moon and beyond.
While all four launches have gone off without a hitch, the company continues to have issues nailing the landing. SpaceX's live stream froze as the SN11 was coming in for a landing, but reports from the scene indicate there was a large explosion that scattered debris around the area.
In a tweet, Musk said one of the engines appeared to have issues on ascent, and that "something significant happened" shortly after the engines fired for landing. He said SpaceX hopes to learn more as it examines the wreckage.
Space, by its nature, involves a lot of trial and error, and SpaceX has said it will likely need to run through 20 prototypes before Starship is fully developed. Still, the setbacks are high-profile disappointments for a company with grand ambitions and in constant need of new funding.
SpaceX was also dealt a setback on Earth, as a judge ruled it should be forced to comply with a Department of Justice subpoena as part of a probe into whether the company has illegally discriminated against foreign job applicants. The judge rejected SpaceX's arguments that the subpoena constituted government overreach.