SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY
SpaceX’s Starship rocket explodes in midair after liftoff
Apr 20, 2023, 7:56 AM | Updated: 11:11 am
(CNN) — SpaceX’s Starship took off from a launch pad on the coast of South Texas on Thursday at 9:28 a.m. ET, but exploded midair before stage separation.
Thursday’s launch marked the vehicle’s historic first test flight. “As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” SpaceX tweeted.
The massive Super Heavy rocket booster, which houses 33 engines, lifted off and sent a massive boom across the coastal landscape as it fired to life. The Starship spacecraft, riding atop the booster, soared out over the Gulf of Mexico.
About two and a half minutes after takeoff, the Super Heavy rocket booster was scheduled to expend most of its fuel and separate from the Starship spacecraft, leaving the booster to be discarded in the ocean. The Starship was meant to use its own engines, blazing for more than six minutes, to propel itself to nearly orbital speeds.
SpaceX said that “teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test.”
Although it ended in an explosion, Thursday’s test met several of the company’s objectives for the vehicle.
Clearing the launch pad was a major milestone for Starship. In the lead-up to Thursday’s liftoff, Musk sought to temper expectations, saying, “success is not what should be expected…That would be insane.”
“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary,” SpaceX tweeted after the explosion.
The test flight comes after years of explosive tests, regulatory hurdles and public hyping from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Musk has talked about Starship — making elaborate presentations about its design and purpose — for years, and he frequently harps on its potential for carrying cargo and humans to Mars, though NASA also plans to use the vehicle to put its astronauts on the moon. He’s even said that his sole purpose for founding SpaceX was to develop a vehicle like Starship that could establish a human settlement on the Red Planet.
Throngs of spectators lined local beaches to catch a glimpse of Starship’s takeoff, pouring onto beaches with fold-out chairs, children and dogs in tow. It echoed the turnout on Monday, at the company’s first launch attempt, which was ultimately left grounded as engineers worked to troubleshoot an issue with a valve on the Super heavy booster.
In the area surrounding Starbase — SpaceX’s name for the Starship development site that lies on Texas’ southernmost tip — many locals have greeted the rocket with fervid enthusiasm. Throughout the area, there are signs of Starship permeating the local culture: a model Starship in a front yard, a “Rocket Ranch” camping ground filled with diehard enthusiasts, and a billboard advertising Martian beer.
What to know about this rocket
Development of Starship has been based at SpaceX’s privately held spaceport about 40 minutes outside Brownsville, Texas, on the US-Mexico border.
Testing began years ago with brief “hop tests” of early spacecraft prototypes. The company started with brief flights that lifted a few dozen feet off the ground before evolving to high-altitude flights, most of which resulted in dramatic explosions as the company attempted to land them upright.
One suborbital flight test in May 2021, however, ended in success.
Since then, SpaceX has also been working to get its Super Heavy booster prepared for flight. The gargantuan, 230-foot-tall (69-meter-tall) cylinder is packed with 33 of the company’s Raptor engines.
Fully stacked, Starship and Super Heavy stand about 400 feet (120 meters) tall.
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