The SpaceX starship explosion was intentional

Starship engines firing during first flight test

About four minutes after SpaceX’s giant rocket lifted off from its Texas launch pad, it burst into a fireball over the Gulf of Mexico, never reaching space.

Although SpaceX has not yet shared many details about what happened during the starship’s maiden voyage, one fact is known: it was deliberately ordered to explode.

Rockets are destroyed in the air while people’s lives can be at risk from falling debris even remotely. In the days following the uncrude test, no injuries or major property damage were reported.

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Get ready: the SpaceX starship will soon try to fly again

When the rocket was launched at 9:33 am on April 20, 2023, some of the rocket’s 33 booster engines either burned out or failed to light from start. As the starship climbed up, cameras captured views of the flames below it, indicating that some of the engines had cut out.

In a statement(opens in new tab) In a release after the incident, SpaceX said the starship had climbed about 26 miles out to sea before losing altitude and beginning to tumble. Then, self-destruct commands were sent to the booster and the ship, which did not separate as planned, the company said.

Dan Dumbacher, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told Mashable that it’s not entirely clear what ultimately started.

“Now it’s a pure race whether the aerodynamic pressure breaks the vehicle or the flight termination system does,” he said, “but it doesn’t really matter because the end result is the same.”

Starship engines firing during first flight test

As the starship climbed up, the camera captured views of a series of flames below it, indicating that some of the engines were out.
Credit: Screengrab from SpaceX broadcast

Starships are super-heavy-lift rockets and spacecraft, designed to carry massive cargo and astronauts into deep space. The 400-foot-tall stainless steel skyscraper has nearly twice the thrust of NASA’s Mega Moon rocket, which first flew into space five months ago, and is fueled by 10 million pounds of liquid methane and oxygen.

SpaceX is used to blowups, and before launch, billionaire founder Elon Musk was outspoken about the obstacles to making the rocket work on the first try.

“There’s a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I wouldn’t say it’s likely to be successful,” he said during a video conference with a National Academies panel in 2021. “But I think we’ll make a lot more. Progress.”

Although Starship never reached space, industry experts largely considered the launch a partial success because the rocket managed to clear the launch tower and traveled higher than any Starship prototype before it.

Meanwhile, the general public seemed unsure of how to feel about the whole thing: after all, generally, when something big and expensive booms, it’s considered bad. But SpaceX has always approached rocketry differently from NASA, working a little less messy and faster to achieve its goals.

Regarding the explosive end, Dumbacher said spaceport safety officers are required to terminate a flight if a rocket enters an area where the risk of hitting someone with debris on the ground exceeds a one in 30 million chance.

“People should take a good look at this – the flight termination system, if it was needed, actually worked,” he said.

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A flight termination system usually consists of a computer attached to the explosives in a part of the rocket that allows the vehicle to be quickly destroyed without causing a violent explosion or igniting the remaining fuel. These mechanisms exist in every rocket licensed to launch.

Thursday’s orbital flight test was a crucial demonstration of the hardware that NASA is relying on to return to the Moon in the next few years. The space agency has a $4 billion contract with SpaceX(opens in new tab) Using starships to land astronauts on the moon during Artemis III and IV(opens in new tab), two upcoming missions that could arrive as early as 2025 and 2028, respectively. As part of the deal, the company will first be required to conduct a successful uncrewed test flight to the Moon.

During the test flight, the massive booster was supposed to separate(opens in new tab) About three minutes after liftoff from the rocket, then drop into the ocean. The ship will fly 150 miles into space above Earth, then splash down on the Hawaiian coast.(opens in new tab) After about 1.5 hours.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX on Thursday, calling the flight attempt a bold step in the right direction.

A starship blasts off the launch pad

SpaceX’s Starship was launched in its first coordinated flight test on April 20, 2023.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX will be poring over its data from the brief flight to determine what caused the engine and booster to fail to separate.

The Federal Aviation Administration will oversee the crash investigation, which is standard practice for such anomalies. Starship will be able to fly again after it is determined that “no system, process or procedure related to the accident affected public safety,” according to a statement released to Mashable.

“If anything, I want people to look at this as a learning experience for SpaceX, not a failure,” Dumbaker said. “They’re ultimately going to put the system to work because of what they learn on these flight tests.”

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