SpaceX's Starship, world's biggest rocket, explodes moments after launch
SpaceX successfully launched Starship, the world's most powerful rocket, but it exploded some minutes into the test flight. The Starship capsule was supposed to break away from the first-stage rocket booster nearly three minutes after lift-off but the stage separation did not occur and the rocket blasted. The launch vehicle took off from SpaceX's Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Why does this story matter?
This was the first integrated test flight of the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy booster, collectively known as Starship. Today was the second launch attempt for Starship. Originally, the test flight was scheduled for April 17 but was called off less than 10 minutes before lift-off due to pressurization issues with the booster.
What went wrong with Starship's first orbital test flight?
Starship took off from the launch pad but experienced what's called "rapid unscheduled disassembly" before stage separation and eventually exploded. SpaceX said it "will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test" and that today's test would help "improve Starship's reliability." If the test flight went per schedule, stage separation should have occurred about 2 minutes 52 seconds after lift-off.
Take a look at the lift-off and explosion
What was the original plan for Starship's test flight?
According to the original plan, the Starship spacecraft was not expected to make a complete orbit around Earth. It was expected to reach an altitude of 234km and splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Hawaii. The Super Heavy booster also was expected to return to Earth and should have made a hard landing in the Gulf of Mexico.
What was the purpose of the first orbital test flight?
The first test flight was meant to assess the performance of the Starship system. Starship's upper stage has undergone multiple sub-orbital flight tests before and the Super Heavy rocket has been subjected to numerous tests as well, including the test firing of the Raptor engines in February. However, both the Starship spacecraft and the rocket had not flown together before today's flight.
The Starship system stands 395 feet tall
At 395 feet, Starship is the tallest rocket ever. The system has two parts: the Super Heavy rocket with 33 Raptor engines and the Starship spacecraft, which sits atop the rocket. The spacecraft is designed to disengage from the rocket once the latter has consumed its fuel. On the other hand, the Super Heavy booster is responsible for the first power boost at launch.
Starship is more powerful than NASA's SLS rocket
Starship is also the most powerful rocket, beating NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). Its 33 first-stage Raptor engines can produce 16.5 million pounds of thrust at take-off, almost twice that of SLS.
Starship will be able to carry both astronauts and payloads
Starship has the capability to ferry both astronauts and payloads to the Earth's orbit, Mars, Moon, and beyond. Super Heavy can ship payloads up to 100,000kg in the Low Earth orbit (LEO) during future space missions. The launch system will be able to transport payloads to much farther distances and at a "lower marginal cost per launch" than the current Falcon rockets.
Starship is a fully reusable system
The Starship system is designed to be fully reusable. That means the prime hardware parts will not be discarded, like other launch systems. Instead, it will be brought back to Earth and will be used again on future missions.