Elon Musk’s mammoth new rocket, Starship, has exploded on its maiden flight.
The un-crewed SpaceX rocket took off from Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20.
After two to three minutes into the flight, the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built started to tumble out of control and was soon destroyed by onboard charges.
Elon Musk has said his company will try again in a couple of months.
SpaceX engineers still class the mission as a success. They like to “test early and often” and are not afraid to break things. They will have gathered a mass of data to work towards the next flight. A second Starship is almost ready to take flight.
“Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months,” Elon Musk tweeted.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which licenses rocket launches in the US, said it would oversee a mishap investigation. A spokesman said this was standard practice when a vehicle was lost in flight.
Image source: SpaceX
Elon Musk had tried to temper expectations before the launch. Just getting the vehicle off the ground and not destroying the launch pad infrastructure would be considered “a win”, he said.
Starship cleared its launch complex on the US-Mexico border and picked up pace as it headed out over the Gulf of Mexico. But it was evident within a minute or so that not everything was going to plan.
As the rocket climbed higher and higher, it could be seen that six of the 33 engines at the base of the vehicle had been shut down or had flamed out.
And three minutes into the flight, it was pretty obvious the end was near. When the two halves of the vehicle should have been separating, they were in fact still connected – and veering off course.
At launch-plus-four-minutes, as Starship was losing altitude, a large explosion ripped across the blue sky, the result of computers triggering the vehicle’s Flight Termination System (FTS).
The top segment of Starship, also known as the ship, had taken flight previously on short hops, but this was the first time it had launched with its lower-stage.
This immense booster, called simply Super Heavy, was fired while clamped to its launch mount in February. However, its cluster of engines on that occasion were throttled back to half their capability.
Starship may not have destroyed its launch pad but later pictures indicated the forceful departure had done a fair amount of damage to concrete surfaces.