SpaceX successfully launches largest ever space rocket – which blows up
History was made today as a private company leapfrogged ahead of NASA by launching the largest, most powerful rocket ever. At 8:36 am CDT, SpaceX's uncrewed Starship lifted off from the company's Starbase at Boca Chica, Texas, on an orbital test flight that came to an explosive end four minutes into the flight.
Under mostly clear skies and moderate winds, the Starship lifted off as its 33 Raptor liquid-fuel engines in the Super Heavy first stage built up 16,700,000 lb of thrust. At the one-minute-20-second mark, the rocket passed through Max Q or the point of maximum dynamic pressure.
The next phase of the flight was the separation and ignition of the second stage, however, the rocket went into an uncontrolled spin and "fell apart" (in other words, exploded) at the four-minute mark. Ideally, the separation would have been followed by the first stage making a soft ocean landing while the Starship second stage went on to go into orbit for a soft water landing 90 minutes later 62 miles (100 km) northwest of Kauai in the Hawaiian islands.
SpaceX stresses that the loss of the rocket does not constitute a failure of the mission. The objective of the first flight was for the fully assembled rocket, which is larger than the Saturn V, to clear the launch pad. Everything after that was regarded as a bonus.
Today's successful flight will likely cause some concern in NASA circles because the Starship has twice the thrust of the planned Block 3 Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and can carry 20 tonnes more payload into low Earth orbit. With its ability to refuel in space, it's also claimed to be capable of delivering 100 tonnes to the Moon when fully operational.
Worse, its estimated flight costs are under US$10 million while the SLS is estimated, by some, to cost over US$4 billion per flight, and the Starship is fully reusable, meaning that it can fly more frequently than the SLS, which is only scheduled to lift off an average of about once a year or every two years.
Add to this that SpaceX claims that the Starship will be able to fly to the Moon and, one day, Mars and land directly on the surface, then not only NASA, but ESA and China may need to do some serious recalculations if Starship works out as promised.
The video below recaps the first orbital launch of the Starship.