SpaceX launches new rocket but explosions end second test flight

18 November 2023, 16:54

SpaceX Starship Launch
SpaceX Starship Launch. Picture: PA

The first test flight in April ended in an explosion soon after lift-off.

SpaceX launched its mega rocket Starship but lost both the booster and the spacecraft in two explosions minutes into Saturday’s test flight.

The rocketship reached space following lift-off from south Texas before communication was suddenly lost.

SpaceX officials said it appears the ship’s self-destruct system blew it up over the Gulf of Mexico.

Minutes earlier, the separated booster had exploded over the gulf.

By then, though, its job was done.

Saturday’s demo lasted eight or so minutes, about twice as long as the first test in April, which also ended in an explosion.

The latest flight came to an end as the ship’s engines were almost done firing to put it on an around-the-world path.

At nearly 400ft (121 metres), Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, with the goal of ferrying people to the Moon and Mars.

“The real topping on the cake today, that successful lift-off,” said SpaceX commentator John Insprucker, noting that all 33 booster engines fired as designed, unlike last time.

The booster also separated seamlessly from the spaceship, which reached an altitude of 92 miles.

Commentator Kate Tice said: “We got so much data, and that will all help us to improve for our next flight.”

SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas
SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas (Eric Gay/AP)

SpaceX founder Elon Musk watched from behind launch controllers at the southern tip of Texas near the Mexico border, near Boca Chica Beach.

At company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, employees cheered as Starship soared at daybreak.

The room grew quiet once it was clear that the spaceship had been destroyed.

SpaceX had been aiming for an altitude of 150 miles, just high enough to send the bullet-shaped spacecraft around the globe before ditching into the Pacific near Hawaii about one-and-a-half hours after lift-off, short of a full orbit.

Following April’s flight demo, SpaceX made dozens of improvements to the rocket as well as the launch pad.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the rocket for flight on Wednesday, after confirming that all safety and environmental concerns had been met.

After Saturday’s launch, the FAA said no injuries or public damage had been reported and that an investigation was under way to determine what went wrong.

SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship breaks the sound barrier as it launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas
SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship breaks the sound barrier as it launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas (Eric Gay/AP)

SpaceX cannot launch another Starship until the review is complete and corrections made, the FAA added.

Nasa is counting on Starship to land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2025 or shortly thereafter.

The space agency awarded SpaceX a three billion dollar (£2.4 billion) contract to make it happen, by transferring astronauts from its Orion capsule to Starship in lunar orbit before heading down to the surface.

“Today’s test is an opportunity to learn – then fly again,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson via X, formerly Twitter.

Starship is 34ft (10 metres) taller than Nasa’s Saturn V rocket which carried men to the Moon more than half a century ago, and 75ft (23 metres) taller than Nasa’s Space Launch System rocket that flew around the Moon and back, without a crew, last year.

And it has got approximately double the lift-off thrust.

Like before, nothing of value was aboard Starship for the trial run.

Once Starship is proven, Mr Musk plans to use the fully reusable mega rockets to launch satellites into orbit around Earth and equipment and people to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.

By Press Association

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