TEXAS — The uncrewed Starship spacecraft launched aboard the most powerful rocket ever built on Saturday morning, but both were lost shortly after liftoff.
The Super Heavy rocket booster ignited its 33 massive engines and Starship experienced a safe liftoff.
SpaceX tried “hot staging” for the first time, essentially a step in which the spacecraft separated from the rocket booster by blunt force trauma.
After hot staging, the rocket booster exploded in a fireball over the Gulf of Mexico.
Starship initially continued on just fine before SpaceX lost the spacecraft’s signal and triggered the system’s software to terminate the flight so it didn’t veer off course.
Starship was intended to fly nearly a lap around the planet before returning to Earth, but data from this second test flight will be used to determine SpaceX’s next steps in making humanity “multiplanetary.”
Around 10 minutes into the uncrewed test flight, SpaceX lost contact with Starship, and so far hasn’t publicly shared any potential theories as to what might have gone wrong.
In a statement issued after the launch, the company said it would review data from the mission and share updates on its website.
The FAA is also expected to begin a mishap investigation of the test, as is routine after any space mission that does not go exactly to plan.
The agency said Saturday in a statement, “No injuries or public property damage have been reported,” as a result of the launch.
SpaceX’s launchpad appears to be fully intact, indicating that a new water deluge system used to dampen the jarring forces of the Super Heavy rocket’s engines during takeoff helped keep the ground facilities safe.
Cameron County — the Texas county that encompasses Starship’s launch site — opened the single road that runs out to SpaceX’s launch facility and the public beaches shortly after launch.
It was a quick turnaround for the county, which left the roads closed significantly longer after the inaugural test launch in April.
SpaceX acknowledged that the sheer force of Super Heavy’s engines after the April launch tore apart the launchpad. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk referred to it as a “rock tornado.”
But the new deluge system used during this launch shot nearly 360,000 gallons of water upward as the engines ignited during this morning’s launch.
After separating from the Super Heavy rocket booster, the Starship spacecraft soared to an altitude of approximately 93 miles (150 kilometers) before SpaceX lost contact, according to a statement issued by the company.
For context, the US government considers 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth’s surface the edge of outer space.
Internationally, the Kármán line, located 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, is often used to mark the boundary between our planet and space — but there’s a lot of gray area.
SpaceX is OK with rockets exploding in the early stages of development.
That’s because the company uses a completely different approach to rocket design than, say, NASA.
The space agency focuses on building one rocket and strenuously designing and testing it on the ground before its first flight — taking years but all but guaranteeing success on the first launch.
SpaceX, however, rapidly builds new prototypes and is willing to test them to their breaking point because there’s usually a spare nearby.
During a drive by the company’s facilities on Friday — four Starship spacecraft and at least two Super Heavy boosters could be seen from public roadways. — CNN