SpaceX Starship — the world's biggest rocket — exploded minutes after its successful launch from Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday morning.
The rocket flew for several minutes before failing to separate from the Super Heavy booster and exploding.
“As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” SpaceX tweeted after the explosion.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk congratulated company staff, tweeting that they “learned a lot for next test launch in a few months.”
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Starship’s size and weight outpaces that of Saturn V, NASA’s Apollo Mission-era rocket. The launch marked the first time that both of Starship’s components — the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy booster — have been tested together.
A previous attempt to launch the ship on Monday was scrapped just minutes before launch due to an issue with the rocket’s pressurization system. SpaceX then put Starship through a “wet dress rehearsal,” with engineers at the Texas launch pad continuing to load the ship with propellant and other fuels.
The rocket measures 394 feet tall and can carry a payload of up to 150 tons. It was set to complete one revolution around the Earth before falling into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii 90 minutes after launch.
Eventually, SpaceX intends to send up to 100 passengers off Earth with Starship, and hopes to transport people to Mars. NASA is watching the rocket closely, and has invested millions into its success.
The rocket test fell on 4/20, a recurrent set of numbers in Musk’s businesses. (Musk purchased Twitter for $54.20 per share, and said he would take Tesla private at $420 per share, but did not. He later testified during a securities fraud trial that it was not a weed joke).
As far as SpaceX launches go, the Starship test was fairly successful. SpaceX had tempered expectations that the rocket would make it into space, and said prior to the launch that even lifting off would be considered a success.
After the explosion, SpaceX tweeted, "With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary."
Starship prototypes have long had issues making it off the launchpad. SN1, an early model of the ship, burst apart in Feb. 2020 during a pressure test. While SN2 tested fine, the third model, SN3, crumpled and collapsed.
SN4 was lost to a fiery explosion in May 2020, dashing hopes that the prototype would be able to complete a “hop” launch. However, SN4 survived five engine tests before exploding. SN7 had a planned failure.
Finally, SN8 — which initially hit all of the milestones expected of it — failed to land successfully, and exploded into a fireball.
The View From NASA
NASA administrator Sen. Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX on the launch.
“Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward. Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test—and beyond,” Nelson said in a tweet.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Musk said he would take Tesla private at $420 per share, but did not actually follow through.