SpaceX’s Starship, an unmanned spacecraft designed for missions to the moon and beyond, encountered apparent failure during its second test flight after the initial attempt ended in an explosion.
The two-stage rocketship took off from the Starbase launch site near Boca Chica in Texas, propelling the Starship spacecraft approximately 55 miles (90 km) above the ground on a scheduled 90-minute space flight. However, shortly after the separation of the rocket’s Super Heavy first stage booster from its core Starship stage, the booster exploded over the Gulf of Mexico, as revealed in SpaceX’s webcast.
While the core Starship continued its trajectory into space, contact with the vehicle was unexpectedly lost by SpaceX mission control a few minutes later, leaving uncertainties about its status.
A broadcast from SpaceX indicated the potential loss of the second stage of the mission. Approximately eight minutes into the test, a camera tracking the Starship booster showed an explosion, indicating a probable failure at that point. The rocket’s altitude was recorded at 91 miles (148 km).
This launch marked the second attempt to fly the Starship atop the Super Heavy rocket booster, following an unsuccessful April attempt that ended in an explosion about four minutes after liftoff.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, responsible for overseeing commercial launch sites, confirmed the incident resulted in the loss of the vehicle, but reported no injuries or property damage. They announced plans to supervise SpaceX’s investigation into the failure and will need to approve measures to prevent such incidents in the future.
The objective of the mission was to launch Starship into space from Texas, bring it close to orbit, and then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for a splashdown off the coast of Hawaii. The launch was initially scheduled for Friday but was delayed by a day due to a last-minute change in flight-control hardware.
SpaceX’s post on social media acknowledged that the core Starship stage’s engines fired for several minutes on its way to space. The company emphasized that despite setbacks, lessons learned from this test will contribute to enhancing Starship’s reliability for future missions, aligning with SpaceX’s goal of enabling multi-planetary life.
This test failure posed a setback for SpaceX’s ambitions to create a versatile spacecraft capable of lunar missions for NASA later in this decade and, eventually, missions to Mars. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, envisions Starship replacing the Falcon 9 rocket as the primary vehicle for the company’s launches, including satellite deployments and other commercial payloads.
NASA, SpaceX’s main client, is reliant on the success of Starship for its Artemis program, aimed at advancing human spaceflight and serving as a successor to the historic Apollo missions that first landed humans on the moon over fifty years ago.
During the April 20 test flight, the spacecraft faced multiple issues, culminating in its destruction less than four minutes into the planned 90-minute flight. Musk attributed the failure to engine issues during liftoff and an internal fire causing the stage separation malfunction.