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SpaceX Starship rocket launches in first test flight, but explodes in midair

SpaceX has launched its integrated Starship for the first time, with the spacecraft and rocket leaving the launchpad on a test flight. However, not everything went smoothly during the test, as the rocket exploded before the separation of the Starship spacecraft from the Super Heavy rocket booster.

The launch from SpaceX’s Starbase facility at Boca Chica in Texas saw the Starship leave the launch pad at 9:33 a.m. ET, consisting of the integrated Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy Booster, which form the world’s most powerful rocket. The combined Starship will be used for future missions to the moon and beyond, launched from a launch-and-catch tower standing at an impressive height of nearly 500 feet tall.

The plan for this first test flight was for the the spacecraft to reach near-orbit, with the upper Starship section separating from the booster section around 170 seconds after liftoff. However, before the separation could happen today, the rocket exploded in the air.

With typical humor, SpaceX described the test as “exciting.” “As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation”, the company wrote on Twitter. “Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test“.

It’s too early to say what issues caused the failure, though careful observers have pointed out that not all of the Raptor engines powering the booster appeared to be firing:

Booster 7 lost at least 6 engines before reaching MaxQ.

This was absolutely incredible to witness. Congratulations @elonmusk and the @SpaceX team!

— Zack Golden (@CSI_Starbase) April 20, 2023

The explosion occurred around four minutes after launch, later than the separation should have occurred, so it seems as if the Starship did not manage to disconnect from the booster as planned. Despite the explosive ending to the test, SpaceX commentators on the live broadcast were cheerful about the achievements of getting the rocket off the pad. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that they had “[l]earned a lot for next test launch in a few months.”

You can watch a replay of the launch below and see the rocket come to its dramatic ending:

Starship Flight Test

SpaceX had been tempering expectations for this test flight, so the explosion did not come as a complete surprise. “With a test such as this, success is measured by how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship,” SpaceX wrote on its website.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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