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Elon Musk’s prized Starship mega-rocket exploded into a fireball on its first attempt to launch into space

April 20, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SpaceX’s Starship mega-rocket burst into a fireball during its first attempt to launch into orbit on Thursday, adding yet another incident to the rocket’s explosive history.

Elon Musk’s grandest plans hinge on Starship, which promises to be the tallest, most powerful, and the only fully reusable rocket to ever be launched.

Musk founded SpaceX with the goal of making spaceflight cheap enough to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Starship is the rocket that’s supposed to make that happen.

Sitting atop its stainless steel Super Heavy booster, this Starship — called Ship 24 — stood nearly 400 feet tall at the company’s freshly licensed orbital launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas on Thursday morning.

At 8:33 a.m. Central Time, the giant booster’s array of 33 truck-sized Raptor engines roared to life, heaving itself off the ground. This was the first time Starship and Super Heavy flew together.

Everything went according to plan until 2 minutes and 49 seconds into the flight, when Starship was supposed to separate from the Super Heavy booster and continue into space. That didn’t happen. Instead, the rocket and its booster tumbled through the air, falling back toward Earth.

“We should have had separation by now. Obviously this is, uh, does not appear to be a nominal situation,” SpaceX announcer and engineer John Insprucker said on the company’s livestream.

A hush fell over the control room at SpaceX’s facilities, where Musk himself was watching, until the tumbling rocket exploded in a fireball.

“Starship just experienced what we call a rapid unscheduled disassembly,” Insprucker said.

Watch the video from the moment things went wrong:

It’s not yet clear what caused the issue, though mission managers said that four of the booster’s Raptor engines were not firing during flight.

“We cleared the [launch] tower, which honestly was our only hope,” Kate Tice, a SpaceX engineering manager, added on the broadcast.

SpaceX was planning for the rocket to reach space, spend an hour at orbital heights, and return to splash down in one piece in the Pacific Ocean, north of the Hawaiian islands.

Starship didn’t reach those heights, but it did beam back this stunning photo before the incident.

“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 said on Twitter, as Musk congratulated the company on “an exciting test launch.”

Elon Musk guaranteed excitement, not success

The biggest concern for Musk would be if Starship “fireballed” and melted the launch pad, he said during a Twitter Spaces session on Sunday. Musk said such an incident would melt the steel and damage the launch pad, which would take SpaceX several months to rebuild.

Musk had estimated about a 50% chance of success, hinting that it could explode like previous low-flying prototypes.

“I’m not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement,” Musk said in an interview at the Morgan Stanley Conference on March 7, adding: “Won’t be boring!”

This is likely not the end of Starship.

Musk previously said that SpaceX is building multiple Starship rockets to launch this year. Musk estimated that there’s about an 80% chance one of them will reach orbital heights. ( Business Insider).

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