“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve.”
So said SpaceX in a tweet minutes after the “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of its Starship and Super Heavy rocket on Thursday.
In other words, it blew up.
Onlookers gathered in view of SpaceX’s launch site in Cameron County, Texas, to see the world’s most powerful rocket blast towards the outer levels of Earth’s atmosphere as part of the first integrated test of Starship and its rocket base.
Reaching an apogee – or high point – of 39 kilometres above the Gulf of Mexico, the craft hit speeds of more than 2,000 km/h before the scheduled separation of the first and booster stages. Instead, the rocket appeared to tumble before exploding.
Still the system left the launchpad and flew for four minutes on its first integrated test, which, as many industry observers point out, has been part and parcel of the spaceflight story since it began.
In a statement, SpaceX confirmed multiple engines failed to fire after lift-off.
“The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble. The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship,” it said.
“As is standard procedure, the pad and surrounding area was cleared well in advance of the test.”
Several Super Heavy rockets are in development and the next flight test is expected in the coming months, according to company chief Elon Musk.
The complete test intended for Starship to continue for another 100 kilometres into space before re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
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