BOCA CHICA, Texas: SpaceX Starship on Saturday (Nov 18) made progress in the second test launch of its mammoth Starship rocket, with the booster separating from the spaceship, but both then exploding shortly after over the ocean.
“Such an incredibly successful day,” a SpaceX announcer said. “Even though we did have a rapid unscheduled disassembly of both the Super Heavy Booster and the ship.”
The largest rocket ever built – Elon Musk hopes it will one day be used to colonize Mars – blasted off from the company’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas shortly after 7:00am local time.
Unlike the previous such attempt in April, the booster rocket separated successfully from the mega ship, but then blew up, followed shortly by the spaceship itself.
Bill Nelson, head of the NASA space agency, which is awaiting a modified version of Starship to land humans on the Moon, said Saturday’s attempt showed progress.
“Congrats to the teams who made progress on today’s flight test,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “Spaceflight is a bold adventure demanding a can-do spirit and daring innovation. Today’s test is an opportunity to learn – then fly again.”
“It was a fantastic partial success,” space scientist Laura Forczyk told AFP. “It surpassed my expectations.”
Compared to the first attempt to fly the spaceship in its fully stacked configuration back in April, Spaceship made it further into flight Saturday, with the booster breaking away from the ship before disintegrating.
“As you could see, the Super Heavy Booster has just experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly; however, our ship is still underway,” an announcer said.
As the booster fell off, the upper stage started what was meant to be a partial trip around the Earth – it was scheduled to fall into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii after 90 minutes – but it too blew up.
When the two stages of Starship are combined, the rocket stands 121 metres tall – beating the Statue of Liberty by about 27 metres.
Its Super Heavy Booster produces 74.3 meganewtons of thrust, almost double that of the world’s second most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – though the latter is now fully operational.
Both systems are designed to be fully reusable, a key element of SpaceX’s design meant to greatly reduce costs.