A cyberpunk scene at SpaceX’s launch facilities: A robot dog inspected the wreckage of a Starship rocket prototype

Spacex robot dog zeus starship sn10

SpaceX created a futuristic tableau at its Texas rocket-testing facilities on Thursday, when a robotic dog wandered the wreckage of the company’s latest Starship prototype.

SpaceX launched the rocket prototype, called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10, on Wednesday. Like the two prototypes before it, SN10 climbed to nearly 10,058.40m above the company’s facilities in the town of Boca Chica. Then it shut off its engines and plummeted to Earth in a belly-flop position, controlling its fall with four wing flaps.

Unlike its predecessors, which slammed into the ground and exploded immediately, SN10 successfully refired its engines to flip itself upright and touch down softly on the ground. But then it exploded spectacularly 10 minutes later.

Sn10 starship explosion landing spacex
SpaceX’s SN10 Starship rocket prototype exploded on the landing pad minutes after touchdown Wednesday. SPadre.com

With the air cleared and the roads reopened, photographers and SpaceX fans flocked to the company’s facilities on Thursday morning to watch the cleanup from a distance. That’s when they spotted a fascinating four-legged robot wandering the wreckage.

Spadre.com shared videos of the agile robo-dog on Twitter.

—SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle) March 4, 2021

The lifelike machine is a Boston Dynamics “Spot” robot, which SpaceX has apparently renamed Zeus, according to photos that show the name printed across a red doghouse where the robot lives.

Zeus has been spotted inspecting SpaceX landing sites before. It’s not clear what exactly the mechanical pooch was doing at the SN10 explosion site, but Zeus is most likely outfitted with cameras and sensors to collect data, since approaching wrecked rockets can be unsafe.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for further details.

—SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle) March 4, 2021

The rocket Zeus was inspecting is designed as the upper stage of a two-part system; a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would one day heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. But eliminating these explosions from the vehicle’s landing process is crucial, since SpaceX is designing Starship and Super Heavy to be fully and rapidly reusable. A spaceship that blows up after it lands is, of course, tough to relaunch.

If the system works, though, Starship-Super Heavy could slash the cost of reaching space by a thousandfold, since it would eliminate the need to build new rockets and spaceships for each spaceflight. CEO Elon Musk wants to eventually construct a fleet of reusable Starships to power around-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, fly astronauts to the moon, and one day carry people to Mars.

Musk has said he is “highly confident” SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.