Just after 8 a.m. ET, SpaceX’s enormous Starship rocket launched from its Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
The Super Heavy booster detonated a few minutes after launch and during the scheduled “hot stage” separation, preventing the rocket from continuing its intended fall and ocean landing, although the Starship itself reached space. A few minutes later, the SpaceX crew announced that they could have lost the spacecraft because they had not heard from Starship. According to the New York Times, the upper stage reached a height of 90 miles, launching it into space before it was lost.
After the launch, SpaceX posted a statement confirming that “the booster experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly” following the separation. However, the company made no further comments about Starship other than to state that “its engines fired for several minutes on its way to space.”
The craft was probably out of range of base stations at that point in its mission, but it looks like its flight termination system activated shortly after its Raptor engines cut off.
Part of the purpose of this flight test was to get Starship into space; SpaceX intended for it to orbit the Earth for a short time and land close to Hawaii. Whether or not the launch achieved that goal, Lisa Watson-Morgan, the director of NASA’s Human Landing System program, told Ars Technica in an interview that was published yesterday that it would still “be a great learning event,” providing SpaceX and NASA with more data to continue refining Starship’s systems for upcoming tests.
The 397-foot-tall rocket, which has a two-stage system that separates a few minutes into launch with the booster designed to set back down, is being launched for the second time today.
SpaceX postponed the Starship launch, which was initially planned for November 17, in order to replace a grid fin actuator, which aids in directing the Super Heavy rocket to its intended location.
When compared to the last attempt, this launch test succeeded far more. The April maiden test flight of Starship was unsuccessful. Shortly after takeoff, the rocket caught fire and released detonators to cause its own destruction. Propeller leakage from the Super Heavy rocket was identified by SpaceX as the cause of the failure, claiming it “severed connection with the vehicle’s primary flight computer.” Until the corporation addressed the 63 remedial actions recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration, it was not permitted to execute another launch.
Updated at 9:38 AM ET on November 18, 2023: The NASA Space Flight YouTube video displaying the booster explosion has been enhanced with a description.