The SN10 spacecraft rocket exploded eight minutes after what appeared to be a nail landing, the third prototype to be destroyed.

The third time seemed to be the stimulus for Elon Musk’s Starship prototype rocket until it wasn’t anymore.

The rocket soared into the skies in an altitude test from Boca Chica, Texas on Wednesday, then flew back to Earth and maneuvered into its first – successful – upright landing.

But the triumph was short-lived.

“A nice soft landing,” said a SpaceX commentator during a live broadcast of the test flight when an automated fire extinguishing system trained a jet of water on flames that were still burning at the base of the rocket.

About eight minutes later it blew itself to pieces, jumped in the air, and crashed back to the ground.

There was no immediate explanation for what had gone wrong.

SN10 was the third spaceship to be destroyed in a fireball, although it was much closer to a safe vertical touchdown than two previous models – SN8 in December and SN9 in February. The rocket is being developed by SpaceX to carry people and cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

For Elon Musk, billionaire SpaceX founder who also runs electric car maker Tesla, the results have been mixed news.

This screenshot from SpaceX’s live webcast shows the Starship SN10 prototype preparing to land during the day’s second attempted test flight [Jose Romero/SpaceX via AFP]In a tweet in response to spirited congratulations from an admirer of his work, Musk replied, “RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”

The video feed provided by SpaceX on the company’s YouTube channel was paused shortly after landing. However, separate fan feeds streamed through the same social media platform showed an explosion that suddenly erupted at the base of the missile, throwing the SN10 into the air before crashing to the ground and bursting into flames.

The complete Starship rocket, which, when coupled with its super-heavy first stage booster, will be 120 meters tall, is SpaceX’s fully reusable next-generation launcher – the center of Musk’s ambitions to make space travel more affordable and routine.

The first orbital spacecraft flight is planned for the end of the year.

On Wednesday, Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, who was paying an undisclosed sum for a SpaceX lunar ship voyage, invited eight people from around the world to join him.

The Starship tests take place in an almost deserted area rented by SpaceX in southern Texas near the border with Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico.