"Starship SN10 landed in one piece!" SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted jokingly, after unmanned rocket exploded on the ground following what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing.

In this image from video made available by SpaceX, one of the company's Starship prototypes fires its thrusters as it lands during a test in Boca Chica, Texas, March 3, 2021.
In this image from video made available by SpaceX, one of the company's Starship prototypes fires its thrusters as it lands during a test in Boca Chica, Texas, March 3, 2021. (AP)

SpaceX’s futuristic Starship has exploded after what looked to be a successful touchdown.

The failure occurred on Wednesday just minutes after SpaceX declared success. Two previous test flights crash-landed in fireballs.

The full-scale prototype of Elon Musk's envisioned Mars ship soared more than 10 kms after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas. 

It descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico and then flipped upright just in time to land.

The shiny bullet-shaped rocketship remained intact at the 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.

READ MORE: SpaceX Starship prototype rocket landing ends in fireball again

'Landed in one piece!'

There was no immediate comment from SpaceX on what went wrong. 

But Musk looked on the bright side in a tweet: "Starship 10 landed in one piece! RIP SN10, honorable discharge."

He added: "SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace."

READ MORE: SpaceX launch marks a new era in the privatisation of space

Previous failed tests

Musk plans to use Starships to send people to the moon and Mars.

The last two prototypes reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but slammed into the ground at Boca Chica, Texas, and exploded.

The tests take place in a nearly deserted area leased by SpaceX in South Texas near the border with Mexico and Gulf of Mexico – the area is vast and empty enough that an accident or explosion would not likely cause damage or fatalities.

Each of these last three test flights lasted 6 1/2 minutes.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies