SpaceX’s Starship megarocket exploded today. Using a Super Heavy booster for the first time under Starship, the entire vehicle assembly failed minutes after lifting off the launch pad in South Texas.
Light brown smoke radiating from the base of the rocket, followed by cheers, marked the start of launch. Everything seemed to be going according to plan as the fiery exhaust gases propelled the double-deck rocket assembly into the atmosphere. Crowds and commentators waited for the silver rocket and white booster to separate as planned, and then kept waiting until the rocket finally began to go round and round. The rocket, which was unmanned, then exploded.
SpaceX aimed to send the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built on a trip around the world. If all had gone according to plan, the Starship upper stage would have ended its flight in the water near Hawaii. That didn’t happen.
This launch was originally scheduled for Monday, but a stuck boost valve delayed the project.
[Related: SpaceX Starships keep exploding, but it’s all part of Elon Musk’s plan]
The launch included two stages: one using the Starship rocket, which has taken off before. Starship finally landed in 2021 unexploded after multiple failures and explosions. And the second, a Super Heavy booster, is a new addition designed to propel the rocket further. This was the first release with those two sections together.
The plan was to launch from the southern tip of Texas, drop the propellant in the Gulf of Mexico, and have Starship cross the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans before swimming in the Pacific near Hawaii.
Crowds had gathered just a few miles from the SpaceX launch site, Boca Chica Beach in Texas, to watch the launch. The rocket’s ultimate goal is to transport humans and cargo to the Moon and eventually Mars, but that goal could be farther away from where it hopes to go.
“I’m not saying it will reach orbit, but I guarantee excitement. It won’t be boring,” Musk said at a Morgan Stanley conference last month. He estimated that it might have a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit.
Although Starship and its booster failed to separate, SpaceX still sees this as a success. “It seems to be spinning, but I want to remind everyone that everything after clearing the tower was the icing on the cake,” a SpaceX announcer said during the event; the vehicle exploded as she was making the comment, prompting cheers. She added that it was “an exciting end to Starship’s maiden integrated test flight.”
Starship’s Super Heavy booster has 33 methane-fuelled engines, and the ship itself could theoretically hold 250 tons and 100 people. Before sending passengers to new destinations, Musk wants to use the unmanned rocket to launch satellites, like his own Starlinks, into Earth orbit.
Watch all the steamy drama below: