On Thursday, April 20, SpaceX’s $3 billion Starship rocket blew up in the air four minutes after taking off from its base in Boca Chica, Texas. The rocket was intended to someday send people to Mars and the moon.
Despite leaving the launch pad, the spacecraft was unable to disengage from its booster, which resulted to an explosion four minutes after launch.
Some of the ship’s 39 engines appeared to be having problems on a live stream of the launch. The rocket started to spin in the air before starting to fall and finally bursting into flames.
SpaceX plans to use the Starship to send several hundred people per launch, in contrast to its current use of the Falcon-9 rocket to launch a few dozen Starlink Internet satellites into orbit at a time.
Successfully lifting the 400-foot-tall rocket off the launch pad was still a big step forward towards SpaceX’s ultimate goal of facilitating multi-planetary life, the company stated. “With a test like this, success comes from what we learn,” it tweeted. “Today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary.”
A test launch scheduled for Monday was canceled at the last minute due to a frozen valve in the booster. On Thursday, with 40 seconds left on the countdown clock, the flight crew paused all operations, also due in part to a pressurization issue in the booster.
The decision to use 33 booster engines, more than any other rocket ever made, was a trade-off, according to Paulo Lozano, director of MIT’s space propulsion laboratory.
Though it’s necessary for lifting payloads of up to 250 tons, “having that large number of rocket engines firing simultaneously — it’s actually quite hard. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges,” Lozano said.
SpaceX stated that it expected the debris to fall somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico and it would work with local authorities for recovery operations. “It was a great find by the countdown team, and that’s why we have a countdown,” said SpaceX quality systems engineer Kate Tice. “We’ve learned a lot over the last 48 hours, and we’re ready to give it another go.”
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