The prototype rocket, which was launched from Texas, landed with a deafening crash after it reached a height of 10 kilometres, the second such explosion following the last prototype of Starship failure in December.

The SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype rocket explodes after descending from a test flight in a still image from video in Boca Chica, Texas, US, on February 2, 2021.
The SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype rocket explodes after descending from a test flight in a still image from video in Boca Chica, Texas, US, on February 2, 2021. (Reuters)

A prototype of a SpaceX rocket, the company hopes will one day journey to Mars, has crashed in a fiery explosion as it tried to land upright after a test flight.

It was the second such explosion after the last prototype of Starship met a similar fate in December.

"We had again another great flight," said a SpaceX announcer on live footage that was broadcast online on Tuesday.

"We've just got to work on that landing a little bit," he added.

The company's founder Elon Musk was uncharacteristically quiet on social media, having announced the night before he was "Off Twitter for a while."

The stainless steel rocket dubbed SN9 was cleared for lift-off from Boca Chica, Texas by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which had earlier delayed granting authorisation after determining that SpaceX's last launch violated the terms of its license.

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Waiver drama

The rocket launched smoothly around 2030 GMT (3:30 PM local time) and progressively shut down its engines as it reached a height of 10 kilometres (six miles), then performed a series of test manoeuvres in a horizontal "belly flop" position.

It was when the rocket attempted to return to a vertical position for landing that the problems began, with the footage showing it came in much too fast and at a bad angle.

It landed with a deafening crash, and exploded into bright orange flames and a dust cloud, but the fire did not spread.

Tuesday's launch was delayed by several days over problems stemming from SpaceX's last Starship test on December 9, which also went up in flames.

SpaceX had sought a waiver to exceed the maximum allowable risk to the public of Starship SN8.

The FAA denied the request, but SpaceX went ahead anyway, landing the company in hot water.

The regulator denied SpaceX the opportunity to launch last week and asked them to carry out corrective actions, finally granting its approval Monday night.

The company hopes the reusable rocket system, which towers at 120 metres (394 feet), will one day carry crew and cargo to fly to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies