On Thursday, SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft exploded during an uncrewed test flight in South Texas, dashing Elon Musk’s efforts to develop a rocket vessel capable of carrying humans to the moon and Mars.
Although the mission was meant to send the largest and most powerful rocket ever built on a trip around the world, the rocket only lasted four minutes before losing altitude and exploding, thanks to malfunctioning engines.
SpaceX stated that multiple engines on the 33-engine booster were not firing, causing the rocket to begin tumbling and eventually prompting its self-destruct system to explode and plummet into the water. So instead of the best-case scenario of a 1 1/2-hour flight with the spacecraft peeling away and taking a lap around the world, the whole thing was over in just four minutes.
Although Musk called it an “exciting test launch,” SpaceX termed it a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has overseen an investigation into the accident, noting that no injuries or public property damage were reported. The agency also grounded Starships until it determines that there is no threat to public safety.
Despite the abbreviated flight, congratulations poured in from NASA chief Bill Nelson and others in the space industry. “Huge accomplishment, huge lessons, onwards to the next attempt.” – Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“It fell somewhere between a small step and their hoped-for giant leap, but it still represents significant progress toward a reusable super-heavy lift rocket,” said University of Chicago’s Professor Jordan Bimm.
The Starship is designed to be fully reusable with fast turnaround, similar to what SpaceX’s smaller Falcon rockets have done. The stainless steel rocket is intended to send people and cargo to the moon and Mars, with NASA reserving a Starship for its next moonwalking team.
Although the setback was significant, SpaceX has more boosters and spacecraft lined up for more test flights, and Musk wants to fire them off quickly so that he can start using Starships to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit and put people on board.