SpaceX has launched and successfully landed its futuristic Starship, finally nailing a test flight of the rocket ship that Elon Musk intends to use to send people to Mars.
The previous four test flights ended in fiery explosions before, during or soon after touchdown at the south-eastern tip of Texas, near Brownsville, on Wednesday (US time).
This latest upgraded version of SpaceX’s full-scale, stainless steel, bullet-shaped rocket ship soared more than 9.6 kilometres over the Gulf of Mexico before flipping and descending horizontally, and then going vertical again just in time for touchdown.
A fire at the base of the 50-metre rocket was quickly extinguished, and the rocket remained standing after the six-minute flight with Musk tweeting: “Starship landing nominal!”
Success came on the 60th anniversary of the flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and it capped a stunning two weeks of achievements for SpaceX.
This has included the launch of four more astronauts to the space station for NASA, the nation’s first night-time crew splashdown since the Apollo moonshots, and a pair of launches for its mini internet satellites.
Less than a month ago, NASA chose SpaceX’s Starship to deliver astronauts to the lunar surface in the next few years.
The $US3 billion ($A3.9 billion) contract was halted last week, however, after the losing companies – Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics – protested the selection.
Mr Musk said in April the NASA money would help development of Starship, which is meant to eventually launch atop a Super Heavy booster.