SpaceX’s SN11 Starship fell from the skies over Texas during re-entry of a test flight. The Starship is being rigourously tested in order to complete interplanetary travel between Earth and Mars.
Foggy conditions over the Boca Chica facility made it difficult to see what caused the crash.
It is another test that has resulted in disaster for SpaceX, after a recent test resulted in the rocket exploding on the landing site shortly after touchdown.
“At least the crater is in the right place!” SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk tweeted.
He said “something significant” happened shortly after the engine firings for landing: “Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.”
In addition, one of the three engines had trouble during the ascent, he noted.
This was the fourth full-scale stainless steel model to launch since December to an altitude of more than six miles. The previous three exploded at touchdown or shortly afterwards.
“Another exciting test, as we say,” SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said as he concluded the webcast.
A newer version of the rocket has undergone hundreds of design changes, according to Mr Musk.
“Hopefully, one of those improvements covers this problem,” he said.
SpaceX plans to use Starship to send astronauts and cargo to the moon and, ultimately, Mars.
Mr Musk said earlier this month that SpaceX will be landing Starships on Mars “well before 2030″, but noted that “the really hard threshold is making Mars Base Alpha self-sustaining”.
He has named the launch and landing area – at the south-eastern tip of Texas, near the Mexico border – Starbase.
A few hour after Tuesday’s fiasco, he urged people to move to the area, saying on Twitter he is looking to hire several thousand people over the next year or two — engineers, technicians, builders, and workers of all sorts.
He said he is also donating millions to the local school district and nearby city of Brownsville.