SpaceX launched the biggest and most powerful rocket ever made on Thursday – but it exploded moments after liftoff, cutting short a key step in Elon Musk’s plans to take humans to the moon and beyond.
The uncrewed Starship rocket successfully left its launchpad in Texas, but failed to separate as planned. Some 239 seconds after launch, the combined rocket exploded in the air, leaving a dramatic cloud in the sky.
It was the first time that the “fully-integrated” version of Starship – with the spacecraft upper stage attached to the “Super Heavy” booster – has ever launched. Together, they make up the biggest and most powerful rocket ever made, with twice the thrust of the Saturn V rocket that carried man to the Moon.
It appeared to flip in the air a number of times before disappearing in a fireball over the ocean about four minutes after lift-off.
In a series of tweets, SpaceX said that it would learn from the test and that “success comes from what we learn”.
“As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” it said, using SpaceX’s lighthearted jargon for an explosion.
“Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test.
“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.
“Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first integrated flight test of Starship!”
Before the launch, Elon Musk had attempted to limit expectations, saying that the mission would be considered a success if the rocket managed to takeoff without destroying its launchpad.
Super Heavy is the first stage of the launch system, is fully reusable and is designed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere to land back at the launch site. However, the test flight would have seen it make a water landing.
SpaceX says Starship will eventually be able to carry up to 100 passengers on long-duration interplanetary flights.
It will also enable the delivery of satellites and the development of a moon base, and point-to-point transport on Earth – allowing travel to anywhere in the world in one hour or less.
The stainless steel Starship is 120 metres tall, has 33 engines and 16.7 million pounds of thrust.
Nasa has reserved a Starship for its next moonwalking team, and would-be space tourists can book lunar fly-bys.
Before launch, SpaceX tweeted: “With a test such as this, success is measured by how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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