The SpaceX spacecraft, which already towers over the southern tip of Texas, soared even higher early Thursday in its first integrated test, making it the most powerful rocket in history.
But the rocket also met a meteoric demise shortly after liftoff at 9:33 a.m. EDT from the company’s starbase area of operations near Brownsville, Texas.
Just over three minutes into the flight over the Gulf of Mexico, it became apparent that the first-stage Super Heavy booster and second-stage spacecraft vehicle were not going to separate as planned, sending the stack combined 400 feet in one drop. It eventually broke up and crashed into the gulf.
In addition to the separation failure, it also appeared that three of the 33 Raptor engines failed to ignite on takeoff.
Despite the hardware issues, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company largely considers the mission a success – teams initially hoped to see the rocket’s engines fire up and then clear the tower. Everything else meant additional data for the engineers to review.
“From a milestone perspective, our primary goal is to clear the platform (i.e. climb past the 500ft launch tower without failure),” Kate said. Tice, head of engineering at SpaceX, during the launch webcast. “Each step beyond is a bonus. The farther we fly, the more data we collect.
Previously:SpaceX cancels launch of first Starship integrated test flight from Texas
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If all had gone as planned, Starship would have cleared the tower and then flown over the Gulf of Mexico. Just before the three-minute mark, Starship and Super Heavy reportedly separated, with the latter attempting a freshwater landing. Starship would have continued to reach an altitude of about 150 miles before attempting its own freshwater landing near Hawaii.
A previous Starship launch attempt earlier this week was canceled due to technical issues with a frozen valve in the Super Heavy booster, but technicians were able to resolve the issue quickly and return the vehicle for another attempt 72 hours later. .
Back at Kennedy Space Center, meanwhile, SpaceX teams are aiming for the next launch in Florida no earlier than Wednesday, April 26. A three-core Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to fly around 7:30 p.m. EDT that evening, although timelines have yet to be finalized. Neither the two side boosters nor the center booster will be recovered after takeoff, so no local sonic booms this time.
What is Starship?
Starship is SpaceX’s version of a next-generation launch system designed to carry humans, cargo and payloads to Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars.
It’s been compared to something out of science fiction thanks to its reflective stainless steel outer shell.
The vehicle consists of two parts: Super Heavy, a massive booster equipped with 33 Raptor engines that will lift Starship, a 164-foot-tall spacecraft that can transport humans and cargo beyond low Earth orbit. It produces more thrust than the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket and NASA’s current Space Launch System.
To date, SpaceX has reportedly spent at least several billion dollars on the Starship program.
SpaceX uses Starbase in Texas for prototyping and building early spacecraft. Low and close to the ocean, the area looks a lot like Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, especially in the days of Apollo. Before SpaceX, there was no space industry presence there.
Why is Starship important?
The reason Musk got into Starship and Super Heavy was based on his belief that humanity must become a multi-planetary, space-faring species sooner rather than later.
Musk sees Starship as the vehicle that will help SpaceX achieve its vision of putting human boots on Mars. He ultimately wants hundreds of people to travel to the Red Planet in each ship.
Last year, NASA awarded SpaceX $2.9 billion specifically for Starship, which is being considered as a lunar lander for the agency’s Artemis program. If this architecture works, it will take the next group of American astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface during the Artemis III mission. Astronauts will use NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule to reach lunar orbit before docking with Starship, which will be waiting for them.
“Under the (original) contract, SpaceX will also fly an uncrewed demonstration mission to the Moon prior to Artemis III,” NASA said late last year when it awarded a second contract to NASA. SpaceX for the development of Starship worth $1.15 billion.
So far, the rocket has only made short sub-orbital test flights. An orbital flight is a major step towards preparing for this lunar mission which is expected sometime before 2030.
Has Starship ever launched?
Previous test flights, which often ended explosively, have only featured the Starship vehicle itself, but this time the combined 400-foot vehicle is launched from Texas.
SpaceX began building the first stainless-steel Starship prototype, known as the “Starhopper,” in Texas, where it was successfully launched on a one-minute low-altitude test flight dubbed ” hop” in August 2019. A series of test suborbital flights were designed to stress systems and components to inform the production of larger prototypes.
In December 2020, the much larger Starship Serial Number 8 prototype was the first to successfully launch from Starbase. After liftoff, it cruised to a high-altitude suborbital apogee and appeared to hover momentarily. Then it turned for a “belly flop” descent to Earth. Although it exploded just short of its landing pad, all of SpaceX’s major test goals for that flight were met.
In February 2021, the Starship Serial Number 9 prototype took flight. The 165-foot vehicle launched a brief test and automatically slowed its Raptor engines to approximately 33,000 feet. He then performed the “belly flop” using adjustable ailerons to set a path back to the launch site. Although the test achieved SpaceX’s primary objective, SN9 failed to fully flip from a “belly-down” position to an upright position, causing it to explode on impact.
SpaceX’s third high-altitude Starship flight in March 2021 saw Starship Serial Number 10 successfully hit all targets and execute the next-generation vehicle’s first landing. But minutes after successfully landing, the spacecraft unexpectedly exploded.
Spacecraft serial number 15 was the first to launch, land and remain intact. In May 2021, SN15 took off from a concrete slab and climbed to an altitude of 10 kilometers, or 33,000 feet, before using its “body” as an airbrake to descend back to the launch site. Just before touchdown, it quickly rolled over and landed softly under the power of two Raptor engines – a first for the program.
Contact Jamie Groh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.
Contact Emre Kelly at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @EmreKelly.
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