SpaceX’s Starship rocket explodes in second test flight after reaching new milestones
(CNN) — SpaceX’s gargantuan deep-space rocket system, Starship, safely lifted off Saturday morning, but ended prematurely with an explosion and a loss of signal.
The Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft successfully separated after liftoff, as the Starship lit up its engines and pushed away. That process ended up destroying the Super Heavy booster, which erupted into a ball of flames over the Gulf of Mexico. But the Starship spacecraft was able to briefly continue its journey.
The Starship system made it much further into flight than the first attempt in April. The rocket and spacecraft lifted off the launchpad at 8 a.m. ET, with the Super Heavy booster igniting all 33 of its engines.
The Starship upper stage began its trip Saturday morning strapped to the top of the Super Heavy first stage, a 232-foot-tall (70.7-meter-tall) rocket packed with 33 massive engines. About two and a half minutes after roaring to life and vaulting off the launchpad, the Super Heavy booster expended most of its fuel, and the Starship spacecraft fired its own engines and broke away.
The Starship spacecraft used its own six engines to continue propelling itself to faster speeds. SpaceX aimed to send the spacecraft to near orbital velocities, typically around 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour).
The SpaceX team awaited acquisition of signal from the spacecraft, but shared during the livestream that the “second stage was lost.”
“The automated flight termination system on second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn as we were headed down rage out over the Gulf of Mexico,” aerospace engineer John Insprucker said.
NASA is investing up to $4 billion in the rocket system with the goal of using the Starship capsule to ferry astronauts to the lunar surface for its Artemis III mission, currently slated to take off as soon as 2025.
The endeavor is aiming to return humans to the moon for the first time in five decades, and the successful completion of this test flight would bring the US space agency and SpaceX one step closer to that goal.
The failure could spell significant delays for Starship’s development and the key missions lined up on its manifest, most notably NASA’s Artemis III mission, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in five decades. The US space agency tapped Starship to serve as the lunar lander for that mission, which is currently slated for late 2025.
The root cause of the Starship rocket’s failure on Saturday was not immediately clear.
If all had gone according to plan, Starship would have continued accelerating toward space. The Starship spacecraft was then slated to complete nearly one full lap of the Earth, aiming to splash down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
The destruction of the vehicle shortly after liftoff was reminiscent of the Starship’s first launch attempt in April. During that test flight, several of the Super Heavy’s engines unexpectedly powered off and the rocket began spiraling out of control just minutes after liftoff. SpaceX was forced to trigger the system’s self-destruct feature, blowing up both stages over the Gulf of Mexico.