It was the very first flight test of this assembly. The Starship assembly consisted of a huge Super Heavy launch vehicle and a second stage, the Starship spacecraft.
While the first attempt at the start was called off at the last minute on Monday due to a problem with fueling, on Thursday’s second attempt the full-scale countdown was completed, albeit with a short pause just before the end.
The 120-meter-long system, which was the largest of its kind, then launched from Starbase Spaceport in South Texas. The problem arose when the spacecraft was to be separated from the launch vehicle. In addition, after the failure of several Raptor engines, the prototype lost height and began to “do somersaults”.
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According to the BBC news station, the subsequent explosion was likely triggered by the Starship’s built-in emergency system. The SpaceX system previously reached a maximum altitude of 39 kilometers and reached a maximum speed of about 2,100 km/h, the AP reported.
But even the departure of the Starship Super Heavy system itself was obviously not entirely ideal. “Partial damage to the launch pad and surrounding infrastructure, including tanks with fuel and oxidizer, is reported,” noted cosmonautics popularizer Milan Halousek from the Czech Space Agency and the Czech Astronomical Society on Facebook.
After 3 minutes and 59 seconds, the premiere test flight of the complete Starship set ended with a big “big badaboom”…
Posted by Milan Halousek on Thursday, April 20, 2023
“Four minutes after launch, the rocket was forced to destroy itself. There was no separation of the Starship from the Super Heavy. Although it looks like a complete failure, it is not. The set flew for the very first time. She passed one of the critical moments, max Q (the point when the rocket’s atmospheric flight reaches maximum dynamic pressure – editor’s note), albeit with several Raptor engines out. Teams have a lot to learn from this as well,” summed up on Twitter space expert Michal Václavík from the Czech Space Agency and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague.
According to him, the set could have been damaged right at the start, when debris was released that could also damage the rocket itself and be one of the causes of the failure.
SpaceX said on Twitter that its engineers will now evaluate the data in an effort to prepare another test. According to company founder Elon Musk, it could come “in a few months.”
During the test flight, the second stage was supposed to circle almost the entire Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean north of the Hawaiian Islands. Musk previously said he would consider “anything that doesn’t destroy the launch pad” to be a success.
Although it was damaged to some extent, the cheering of SpaceX employees could still be heard on the broadcast even after the explosion. Project participants do not see it as a failure, as the Super Heavy launch vehicle and the Starship spacecraft were launched together for the first time, and the test brought a lot of knowledge for further progress.
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The company called the outcome of the flight a “rapid unplanned deployment” and did not immediately specify what caused the Starship to explode. Musk then congratulated his company’s employees on the “exciting” test. “We learned a lot for the next launch in a few months,” he added.
Starship is envisioned as a reusable system that could take humans to the moon and also to Mars in the future. Its performance is significantly higher than that of previous US space rockets, and it is expected that it will one day be able to carry up to 100 people, possibly large amounts of cargo and equipment.
The head of the US space agency NASA, Bill Nelson, congratulated the SpaceX team after the explosion over the Gulf of Mexico. “Every great achievement in our history has required a certain amount of risk taken, because with great risk comes great reward. I look forward to seeing what SpaceX gets out of this, for the next test flight and beyond,” he stated.
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The agency of the US Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is apparently not entirely thrilled. According to available information, it has already started an investigation. In theory, SpaceX could have trouble getting a license for another attempt.
“During takeoff and prior to stage separation, an anomaly occurred that resulted in the loss of the equipment. No injuries or damage to public property were reported,” the FAA said in a statement.
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