With 33 engines, the roughly 400-foot-tall Starship, the largest and most potent rocket ever created, was basically commanded to self-destruct as it deviated from its intended path. It didn’t have any passengers or satellites when it took off from southern Texas.
“During the flying test, the vehicle encountered repeated engine failures, lost altitude, and started to tumble. The vehicle reached the highest apogee of any other in its fleet to far, according to a statement from SpaceX, which noted that the flight termination system was activated on both the rocket and the spacecraft.
The whole test lasted for about four minutes before the rocket fell into water. A previous attempt on Monday had been scrubbed due to a frozen booster valve.
SpaceX broadcasters described the explosion as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”
“Obviously this does not appear to be a nominal situation,” SpaceX’s aerospace engineer John Insprucker said during the live broadcast of the launch.
“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems today that will help us improve on future flights of Starship,” said SpaceX.
Founder Elon Musk tweeted that the company had “learned a lot for the next test launch in a few months.” Musk had previously given 50–50 odds that the spacecraft would reach orbit.
“Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward. Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test – and beyond,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.
NASA has reserved a Starship for its next moon-walking team.
Following the flight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded the vehicle.
The agency said it would oversee the mishap investigation of the test mission, noting that “an anomaly occurred during the ascent and prior to stage separation resulting in a loss of the vehicle.”