Several minutes after taking off from a launchpad in south Texas, SpaceX's Starship rocket failed to reach orbit and exploded. The 394-foot-tall rocket, powered by 33 first-stage Raptor engines, lifted off from Starbase's orbital launch mount amidst a cloud of fire, smoke, and dust. As soon as the rocket passed through a critical point of maximum aerodynamic pressure, it began to tumble before bursting into flames high above the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was for the 165-foot-tall Starship upper stage to separate from the Super Heavy first stage three minutes into the launch, but that never happened. Instead, the two vehicles remained attached, causing the stack to spin out of control and eventually explode. Despite being the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, the Starship's launch failed catastrophically.
“The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude and began to tumble. The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship,”
- outlines SpaceX in an update the same day.
SpaceX was assigned the task of developing a Starship variant capable of transporting two astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon as part of NASA's Artemis III project. In light of the recent launch's delay, expectations grew for the event as the massive rocket may transport significant quantities of cargo and people into space in the future.
In order to test Starship's reentry capabilities, the mission was designed to propel Starship to a height of 145 miles (233 km) and then descend into the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. Ultimately, the mission was slated to conclude with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
One of Elon Musk's primary goals, founding SpaceX in 2002, was to facilitate the human colonization of Mars, a vision he has consistently emphasized. The company has been developing a deep-space transportation system for some time now, including the colossal Super Heavy first-stage booster and the upper-stage Starship. According to Musk, both these vehicles have been designed for complete reusability, which is a groundbreaking technology that will enable humans to explore Mars.
“Now this was a development test, this was the first test flight of Starship, and the goal is to gather the data and as we said, clear the pad and get ready to go again. So you never know exactly what's going to happen, but as we promised, excitement is guaranteed! Starship gave us a rather spectacular end to what was truly an incredible test,”
- says John Insprucker, one of SpaceX's engineers.