SpaceX’s mega-rocket Starship exploded earlier today. Using a Super Heavy booster for the first time below Starship itself, the entire vehicle assembly failed minutes after rising from the launch pad in southern Texas.
A radiating light and brown smoke at the base of the rocket, followed by cheers, marked the beginning of the launch. All appeared to go according to plan as fiery exhaust propelled the double-deck rocket assembly higher into the atmosphere. Crowds and commenters waited to see the silvery rocket and white booster separate as planned—and then kept waiting as the rocket eventually started flipping and spinning. Then, the rocket, which was uncrewed, exploded.
SpaceX was aiming to send the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built on a trip around the world. If all had gone according to plan, the Starship upper stage would have terminated its flight in the water near Hawaii. That didn’t happen.
This launch was originally scheduled for Monday, but a stuck booster valve delayed the project.
The launch included two stages: one using the Starship rocket, which has blasted off before. Starship finally landed in 2021 without blowing up after multiple failures and explosions. And the second, a Super Heavy booster, is a new addition designed to propel the rocket farther. This was the first launch with those two sections together.
The plan was to launch from the southern tip of Texas, drop the booster in the Gulf of Mexico, and have Starship cross over the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans before going for a swim into the Pacific near Hawaii.
Crowds had gathered a few miles away from SpaceX’s launch site, Boca Chica Beach in Texas, to watch the launch. The ultimate goal of the rocket is to shuttle humans and cargo to the Moon and eventually Mars, but that goal might be farther away than the places it hopes to reach.
“I’m not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement. It won’t be boring,” Musk said at a Morgan Stanley conference last month. He estimated it might have a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit.
Though Starship and it’s booster failed to separate, SpaceX still sees this as a success. “It does appear to be spinning, but I do want to remind everyone that everything after clearing the tower was icing on the cake,” one SpaceX announcer said during the event; the vehicle exploded while she made the comment, leading to cheers. She added that it was “an exciting end to the Starship inaugural integrated test flight.”
The Starship’s Super Heavy booster has 33 methane-fueled engines, and the ship itself could theoretically accommodate 250 tons and 100 people. Before sending any passengers to new destinations, Musk wants to use the unmanned rocket to launch satellites, such as his own Starlinks, into Earth’s orbit.
Watch all the fiery drama, below: