SpaceX launched its Starship mega-rocket, but lost both the booster and the spacecraft in two explosions minutes after Saturday’s test flight.
The rocket reached space after taking off from south Texas before communication was suddenly lost. SpaceX officials said it appears the ship’s self-destruct system caused it to explode over the Gulf of Mexico.
Minutes earlier, the separate booster had exploded over the Gulf. But at that point, his job was done.
Saturday’s demonstration lasted about eight minutes, about twice as long as the first test in April, which also ended in an explosion. The final flight ended just as the ship’s six engines had almost finished firing up to put it on a trajectory around the world.
At nearly 400 feet (121 meters), Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, with the goal of carrying people to the Moon and Mars.
“The real icing on the cake today was this successful liftoff,” SpaceX commentator John Insprucker said, noting that all 33 booster engines fired as planned, unlike last time. The booster also separated without issue from the spacecraft, which reached an altitude of 92 miles (148 kilometers).
Commentator Kate Tice added: “We got so much data, and it will all help us improve for our next flight.”
SpaceX founder Elon Musk looked behind launch controllers at the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border near Boca Chica Beach. At the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, employees cheered as Starship took off at dawn. The room fell silent once it was clear that the spaceship had been destroyed.
SpaceX aimed for an altitude of 150 miles (240 kilometers), just high enough to send the bullet-shaped spacecraft around the globe before splashing into the Pacific near Hawaii about an hour and a half after liftoff, or one orbit complete.
After the April flight demonstration, SpaceX made dozens of improvements to the rocket as well as the launch pad. The Federal Aviation Administration cleared the rocket for flight Wednesday, after confirming that all safety and environmental concerns had been met.
After Saturday’s launch, the FAA said no injuries or public damage had been reported and that an investigation was underway to determine what went wrong. SpaceX cannot launch another spacecraft until the review is complete and corrections are made, the FAA added.
NASA is counting on Starship to land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2025 or shortly after. The space agency awarded SpaceX a $3 billion contract to do just that, transferring astronauts from its Orion capsule to Starship in lunar orbit before heading to the surface.
“Today’s test is an opportunity to learn, then fly again,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said via X, formerly known as Twitter.
Starship is 34 feet (10 meters) taller than NASA’s Saturn V rocket that carried men to the Moon more than half a century ago, and 75 feet (23 meters) taller than the Space rocket NASA Launch System that flew around the Moon and back. without a crew last year. And its takeoff thrust is about double.
As before, nothing of value was aboard the Starship for the test.
Once Starship is proven, Musk plans to use the fully reusable mega-rockets to launch satellites into orbit around Earth, as well as equipment and people to the Moon, and eventually to Mars.
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