First fully integrated Starship lifting off for the first time

Elon Musk promises second launch after Starship rocket explodes

Image credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Starship rocket, designed to take humans to Mars and the Moon, exploded minutes after blasting off.

Elon Musk has announced his rocket company will attempt a second launch of its Starship spacecraft after the first one failed its first uncrewed flight test. 

The spaceship was mounted atop SpaceX's new Super Heavy rocket, which the company has described as the most powerful launch vehicle ever made. The 120-metre-tall spacecraft lifted off from South Texas on Thursday. However, only minutes after the launch, the two sections of the rocket failed to detach, causing Starship to begin spinning at altitude before exploding about four minutes after leaving the ground.

The test's failure is likely to delay SpaceX's ambitions to use Starship aircraft to take humans back to the Moon and beyond.  

Starship rocket ready for launch

Starship rocket ready for launch /SpaceX

Image credit: SpaceX

The goal of the test was to see Starship fly to an altitude of over 90 miles (150km) above the Earth, before plummeting into the Pacific Ocean. However, due to the malfunctions, the rocket was only able to claim 25 miles (40km).

“As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” SpaceX said in a statement on Twitter.

The spacecraft "experienced multiple engines out" during its ascent, then "lost altitude and began to tumble," before the "flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and the ship," the company explained.

There were no casualties from the rocket's explosion, as this was an uncrewed flight, and any debris from the explosion should have landed over the water in areas placed off-limits by the US Coast Guard.

Despite the explosion, SpaceX said it still classed Thursday's mission as a success, with Elon Musk taking to Twitter to congratulate the team, and state that he had "learned a lot" for the next test launch. 

The company had previously cautioned that the chances of success were low and that the aim of the test flight was to gather data, regardless of whether the full mission was achieved. In February, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell had told a conference that the "real goal is to not blow up the launch pad."

The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses rocket launches in the US, said it would oversee a mishap investigation, which is standard practice when a vehicle is lost in flight. Meanwhile, Nasa chief Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX, saying: "every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward."

SpaceX employees that were watching a livestream together at the company's headquarters near Los Angeles were videoed cheered wildly as the rocket launched, and again after it disintegrated.

Artist rendering of SpaceX rocket

Artist rendering of SpaceX rocket /SpaceX

Image credit: SpaceX

SpaceX says Starship will be able to carry up to 100 people on long-duration interplanetary flights. The company's vision is to use this spacecraft to deliver satellites and support the development of a colony on the lunar surface, from which missions to Mars can be launched.

The stainless steel Starship is 120 metres tall, has 33 engines and 16.7 million pounds of thrust (74.3 million newtons). However, the spacecraft has previously faced technical difficulties. Earlier this week, SpaceX was forced to cancel the original launch date for Starship, due to a pressurisation issue.

Despite the challenges, the European Space Agency’s director-general Josef Aschbacher congratulated SpaceX on the mission, hailing it “an impressive step”.

“There is room for all of us to learn from test launches. I look forward to the next steps,” he said.”

Musk’s SpaceX was the first private company to send humans into orbit and its constellation of over 3,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit and ground terminals has recently exceeded one million subscribers and provided a lifeline to users in Ukraine who suffered infrastructure disruptions after Russia’s invasion. 

Over the past few years, SpaceX has been collaborating with Nasa as part of its Artemis programme that aims to take humans back to the Moon. In March, the company's rocket was used to launch the mission that took four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), including a Russian cosmonaut, a United Arab Emirates astronaut and two Nasa crewmates.

Last month, Space X raised $750m (£627m) in a funding round that has valued the venture at $137bn (£114bn). 

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