SpaceX’s second test flight of its Starship spacecraft — which it hopes will one day ferry humans to the moon and Mars — ended in an explosion Saturday morning minutes after taking off from the company’s spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas. Starship launched just after 8AM ET atop a Super Heavy rocket, the largest rocket in the world.
Moments after completing stage separation, when the Super Heavy booster detached itself from Starship, the rocket’s first stage exploded. Starship, however, continued on for several more minutes, surpassing the flight time of its predecessor. A faint explosion could be seen in the livestream around the 8-minute mark, and hosts confirmed soon after that they’d lost contact with the craft.
Unlike in its first test, which came to an end about 24 miles above Earth’s surface, Starship was able to reach space this time around. At the time of its explosion, the livestream’s tracker clocked it at an altitude of about 92 miles.
The booster experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after stage separation while Starship’s engines fired for several minutes on its way to space
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 18, 2023
Today’s flight was also SpaceX’s first attempt at its new separation technique called “hot staging,” in which it fired up Starship’s engines before the craft detached from the still-firing first stage. It managed to complete the motions before Super Heavy exploded, with Starship already far away. SpaceX will now have to figure out tweaks to its booster to help it withstand future hot-staging attempts.
But, as with the last test that ended in an explosion, SpaceX is still billing it all as a success. Kate Tice, one of the livestream’s hosts and a quality engineering manager for SpaceX, said it was “an incredibly successful day, even though we did have a RUD — or rapid unscheduled disassembly — of both the Super Heavy booster and the ship. We got so much data and that will all help to improve for our next flight.”