SpaceX Starship – SpaceX’s unmanned spacecraft Starship, designed to transport astronauts to the moon and beyond, failed in orbit shortly after liftoff on Saturday, cutting short its second test but advancing further than an earlier effort that resulted in an explosion.
The two-stage rocketship took off from Elon Musk’s Starbase launch pad in Boca Chica in Texas, helping to lift the Starship spacecraft as high as 90 miles (148 kilometers) above land on a scheduled 90-minute test journey to space and back.
However, the rocket’s Super Heavy first stage booster, after successfully separating from its core Starship stage, exploded over the Gulf of Mexico shortly after detaching, according to a SpaceX livestream.
Meanwhile, the core Starship stage continued to accelerate toward orbit, but a few minutes later, a company presenter stated that SpaceX mission control lost touch with the rocket.
“We have lost the data from the second stage… we think we may have lost the second stage,” stated SpaceX engineer and webcast host John Insprucker. Engineers believe an automated flight termination command was used to kill the rocket, albeit the rationale for this is unknown.
The launch was the second effort to fly Starship atop its tall Super Heavy rocket booster, following an April attempt that failed due to an explosive malfunction four minutes after liftoff.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial launch sites in the United States, said an accident happened that “resulted in a loss of the vehicle,” but no casualties or property damage were recorded.
The government stated that it will supervise a SpaceX-led probe into the testing mishap and must approve SpaceX’s strategy to prevent it from happening again.
The failure of Starship to accomplish all of its test objectives could be a setback for SpaceX. The FAA must examine the company’s failure inquiry as well as its application for a new launch license. Officials at SpaceX have complained that such regulatory reviews take too long.
The failure of a program for which SpaceX plans to spend approximately $2 billion this year, on the other hand, was consistent with the company’s risk-tolerant culture, which promotes fast-paced testing and re-testing of prototypes to accelerate design and engineering advances.
“More things were successful than in the previous test, including some new capabilities that were significant,” Carissa Christensen, CEO of space analytics business BryceTech, said.
“There’s not money and patience for unlimited tests, but for a vehicle that is so different and so big, two, three, four, five tests is not excessive,” he said.
The rocket system performed the critical maneuver to separate the two stages, which it failed to do in the previous test, with the Super Heavy booster intended to plunge into Gulf of Mexico waters while the core Starship booster blasts further into space using its own engines.
However, the Super Heavy booster exploded shortly after, followed by the Starship stage’s own explosion. In a post on the social media site X, SpaceX stated that “success comes from what we learn,” adding that the engines of the core Starship stage “fired for several minutes on its way to space.”
A fully successful test would have been a significant step toward SpaceX’s goal of developing a huge, multi-purpose spacecraft capable of returning people and cargo to the moon for NASA later this decade, and eventually to Mars.
Musk, SpaceX’s founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer, envisions Starship eventually replacing the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket as the centerpiece of its launch business, which already lifts the majority of the world’s satellites and other commercial payloads into space.
“The clock is ticking,” said Chad Anderson, managing partner of venture capital firm Space Capital and a SpaceX investor. “NASA has a timeline for getting to the moon, and this is their primary vehicle to do so.” As a result, SpaceX must meet a deadline.”
The FAA’s examination and the scope of Starship’s technical issues are expected to push such a pace.
“They have the next number of vehicles already lined up in the factory ready to go,” he went on to say. “I think people will be shocked by the cadence that emerges next year.”