Elon Musk's giant SpaceX rocket explodes minutes after launch from Texas

SpaceX's Starship launches from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Thursday, April 20, 2023.
SpaceX's Starship launches from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Thursday, April 20, 2023. Copyright Eric Gay/AP
By Euronews with AP, AFP
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The company said that today's launch would help them improve Starship’s reliability as they seek "to make life multi-planetary."

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SpaceX’s giant new rocket blasted off on its first test flight Thursday but exploded minutes after rising from the launch pad and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Elon Musk’s company was aiming to send the nearly 120-metre Starship rocket on a round-the-world trip from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border. It carried no people or satellites.

The plan called for the booster to peel away from the spacecraft minutes after liftoff, but that didn't happen. The rocket began to tumble and then exploded four minutes into the flight, plummeting into the gulf. 

After separating, the spacecraft was supposed to continue east and attempt to circle the world, before crashing into the Pacific near Hawaii.

SpaceX said that "Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation".

Images showed several of the 33 main engines were not firing as Starship climbed from the launch pad, reaching as high as 39 km. There was no immediate word from SpaceX on how many engines failed to ignite or shut down prematurely.

Instead of a best-case-scenario 1.5-hour flight with the spacecraft taking a lap around the world, the whole thing lasted four minutes. It reached a maximum speed of about 1,300 mph (2,100 kph).

Throngs of spectators watched from South Padre Island, several miles away from the Boca Chica Beach launch site, which was off-limits. As it lifted off, the crowd screamed: "Go, baby, go!"

Elon Musk: 'Learned a lot for next test launch'

The company plans to use Starship to send people and cargo to the Moon and, eventually, Mars. NASA has reserved a Starship for its next moonwalking team, and rich tourists are already booking lunar flybys.

In a post on Twitter, Musk called Thursday's failed bid "an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months".

In the weeks leading up to the flight, Musk gave 50-50 odds that the spacecraft would reach orbit and not end up in what SpaceX calls a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” He said not blowing up the launch pad would be a win.

"You never know exactly what’s going to happen," said SpaceX livestream commentator and engineer John Insprucker. "But as we promised, excitement is guaranteed and Starship gave us a rather spectacular end".

Thursday's launch was the second attempt this week. Monday’s try was scrapped by a frozen booster valve.

At 394 feet and nearly 17 million pounds of thrust, Starship easily surpasses NASA’s moon rockets -- past, present, and future. 

The stainless steel rocket is designed to be fully reusable with fast turnaround, dramatically lowering costs, similar to what SpaceX’s smaller Falcon rockets have done soaring from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

Nothing was to be saved from the test flight.

The futuristic spacecraft flew several miles into the air during testing a few years ago, landing successfully only once. But this was to be the inaugural launch of the first-stage booster with 33 methane-fueled engines.

SpaceX has more boosters and spacecraft lined up for more test flights; the next set is almost ready to go. Musk wants to fire them off in quick succession, so he can start using Starships to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit and then put people on board.

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