SpaceX launched its massive Starship rocket, but lost both the booster and spacecraft in two explosions minutes into the test flight on Saturday.
The missile reached space after launching from South Texas, before communication was suddenly cut off. The ship’s self-destruct system caused it to explode over the Gulf of Mexico, according to initial speculation.
Minutes earlier, the separate booster exploded over the bay. But at that point, his mission was accomplished.
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 journey ended once the vehicle’s six engines finished working to put it on a course around the world.
At approximately 121 metres, Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, aiming to take humans to the Moon and Mars.
“The real icing on the cake today is this successful launch,” SpaceX commentator John Innsbrucker said, noting that all 33 booster engines responded as expected, unlike last time.
The missile also separated without problems from the spacecraft, which reached an altitude of 148 kilometers.
Commentator Kate Tice added: “We have obtained a lot of data, and all of this will help us improve our next flight.”
SpaceX founder Elon Musk watched the launch from 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 the spacecraft lifted off at dawn. The room fell silent once it became clear that the spaceship had been destroyed.
SpaceX targeted an altitude of 150 miles, high enough to send the bullet-shaped spacecraft around the globe before blasting into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii about an hour and a half after liftoff, or a full orbit.
After demonstrating the flight in April, SpaceX made dozens of improvements to the rocket as well as the launch pad. The Federal Aviation Administration allowed the missile to fly on Wednesday, after ensuring that all safety and environmental concerns were met.
After the launch on Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration said that no injuries or general damage had been reported, and that an investigation was underway to determine what went wrong. The FAA added that SpaceX cannot launch another spacecraft until the review is complete and corrections are made.
NASA is counting on the Starship vehicle to land astronauts on the moon by the end of 2025 or shortly after. The space agency has awarded SpaceX a $3 billion contract to do just that, ferrying astronauts from its Orion capsule to the Starship in lunar orbit before heading to the surface.
“Today’s test is an opportunity to learn, then fly again,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson noted via X, formerly known as Twitter.
Starship is 10 meters longer than NASA’s Saturn V rocket that carried men to the moon more than half a century ago, and 23 meters longer than NASA’s Space Launch System rocket that went and returned from the moon without a crew last year.
As before, there was nothing of value on board the spacecraft for testing.
Once the spacecraft is proven, Mr. Musk plans to use the massive, fully reusable rockets to launch satellites into Earth orbit, as well as equipment and people to the Moon, and eventually to Mars.
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