An unmanned SpaceX's futuristic Starship looked like it aced a touchdown Wednesday, but then exploded on the landing pad with so much force that it was hurled into the air, according to a SpaceX video online.
The failure occurred just minutes after SpaceX declared a success. Two previous test flights crash-landed in fireballs.
The last two prototypes (SN8 and SN9) reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but slammed into the ground at Boca Chica, Texas, and exploded.
Each of these last three test flights lasted 6 1/2 minutes.
As seen on SpaceX video, the full-scale prototype of Elon Musk's envisioned Mars ship soared more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas on Wednesday. It descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico and then flipped upright just in time to land.
The shiny bullet-shaped rocket ship remained intact this time at touchdown, prompting SpaceX commentator John Insprucker to declare, "third time's a charm as the saying goes" before SpaceX ended its webcast of the test.
But then the Starship exploded and was tossed in the air, before slamming down into the ground in flames.
"A beautiful soft landing," a SpaceX commentator said on the live broadcast of the test flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out.
The latest prototype, named SN10, for "serial number 10," took off a little before 1120 GMT from Boca Chica, Texas -- the area is vast and empty enough that an accident or explosion would not cause damage or fatalities.