On Thursday, SpaceX successfully launched their Starship spacecraft from their launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas. Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. But the anticipation didn’t last long, as the spacecraft spun out of control and caught fire about four minutes into the test flight. SpaceX had been working with regulators and testing their technology for years prior to the launch.
SpaceX said in a tweet, “Starship underwent an unexpected, rapid disassembly prior to stage separation.”
After breaking apart, the spacecraft was meant to fly due east in an attempt to complete a global circuit before plunging into the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the coast of Hawaii. Spectators flocked to South Padre Island to watch the test, which took place several miles away from the restricted Boca Chica Beach. The crowd cheered “Go, baby, go!” as it took off.
As the spaceship ascended into the sky, the crowd’s anticipation and excitement grew, but it quickly gave way to shock and disappointment as the craft spun out of control and caught fire. However, SpaceX’s mission to create a launch system that will eventually transport humans and cargo to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, was significantly advanced by the successful liftoff.
The test flight was scheduled to last 90 minutes and would have taken off from California, circled the globe, and then landed in the Pacific. On April 17th, SpaceX attempted its first test flight, but had to abort the mission because of a “frozen” pressurant valve.
SpaceX’s leadership has stressed the launch’s experimental nature and declared that if Starship lifts off the pad, the mission was a success. Together, the Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft make up the launch system known as Starship. The Super Heavy Booster is a reusable rocket that is powered by 33 Falcon Raptor engines.
As stated by SpaceX, the purpose of the test was to “inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances the development of the ship,” even if the flight itself did not go as planned. In the future, astronauts and cargo will be able to use SpaceX’s launch system to travel to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. In 2025, during the Artemis III mission, NASA will use the same system to return humans to the Moon.
The first orbital Starship launch had been planned for the summer of 2021, but the company encountered development delays and only received FAA approval late on Friday. To be closer to the rocket’s launch site for SpaceX’s test launches, some diehard fans uprooted their entire lives. After years of intense testing in preparation for the first official Starship test flight, SpaceX finally received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this month.