SpaceX’s ambitious Starship rocket, which is designed to eventually carry humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars, exploded for the second time during a test flight on Wednesday. The rocket reached an altitude of about 100 kilometers before losing control and crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
The Starship rocket consists of two stages: the Super Heavy booster, which provides the initial thrust, and the Starship upper stage, which carries the payload. The rocket lifted off from SpaceX’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, at 8:00 a.m. local time, amid clear skies and calm winds.
The first stage of the rocket, powered by 33 Raptor engines, performed well during the ascent, reaching a speed of more than 6,000 kilometers per hour. The booster then separated from the upper stage and began its descent back to Earth, aiming for a landing site near the launch pad.
However, the booster encountered a problem during the re-entry, as one of its engines failed to reignite. This caused the booster to lose stability and spin out of control, eventually breaking apart and exploding in mid-air.
The upper stage of the rocket, powered by six Raptor engines, continued its flight toward orbit, reaching a peak altitude of about 100 kilometers, the boundary of space. The upper stage then performed a “belly flop” maneuver, flipping sideways and using its aerodynamic surfaces to slow down and reorient itself for landing.
However, the upper stage also faced a problem during the landing burn, as two of its engines failed to ignite. This prevented the upper stage from slowing down enough to land safely, and it crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, creating a huge splash and another explosion.
Why is this important?
The Starship rocket is SpaceX’s most ambitious project, as it aims to create a fully reusable launch system that can carry up to 100 tons of payload to low Earth orbit, and up to 20 tons to the Moon and Mars. The rocket is also intended to eventually carry humans, as part of SpaceX’s vision to colonize the Red Planet.
SpaceX has been testing various prototypes of the Starship rocket since 2019, gradually increasing the size, complexity, and performance of the vehicle. The company has successfully landed several Starship prototypes after suborbital flights, but has yet to achieve orbit with the full-scale rocket.
The test flight on Wednesday was the second attempt to launch and land the Starship rocket with the Super Heavy booster, after the first attempt in April ended in a similar explosion. SpaceX had hoped to demonstrate the rocket’s capabilities and reliability, as well as collect valuable data for future improvements.
The test flight was also important for SpaceX’s customers and partners, who have signed contracts or agreements to use the Starship rocket for various missions. These include NASA, which has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to use Starship to land astronauts on the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who has booked a Starship flight around the Moon with eight artists as part of the dearMoon project.
Despite the failure, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk remained optimistic and praised the team for their efforts. He tweeted that the test flight was “still a great achievement” and that the rocket “reached space and did most of what we needed to do”. He also said that the company will “fix the problems and try again soon”.
SpaceX has already built several Starship and Super Heavy prototypes, and plans to conduct more test flights in the coming months. The company hopes to achieve orbit with Starship by the end of this year, and to launch the first orbital flight with humans by 2024.
SpaceX also faces competition from other companies and countries that are developing their own reusable launch systems, such as Blue Origin, which recently launched its New Shepard rocket with founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on a suborbital flight, and China, which is working on a reusable rocket called Long March 8.
SpaceX’s Starship rocket is a bold and ambitious project that could revolutionize the future of space exploration and transportation. However, the rocket also faces many technical and regulatory challenges, and will require many more tests and improvements before it can achieve its full potential.