Elon Musk’s SpaceX, launched its Starship, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built for the first time, but fell short of reaching space after suffering a mid-flight failure. No crew were on board. The company made a first go at getting this launch off the ground on Monday, but a pressure valve in the Super Heavy booster apparently froze. The company’s teams worked to resolve a number of unidentified issues to make a second attempt possible on Thursday. The huge rocket, loaded with nearly 10 million pounds of liquid oxygen and explosive liquid natural gas fuel, flew for several minutes before it began to tumble and the mission ended in a ball of flame. SpaceX leadership has repeatedly stressed the experimental nature of the launch and noted that any result that involved Starship getting off the Launchpad would be a success. Musk on Sunday advised reporters that the odds of success were low and stressed simply clearing the launch pad gantry and getting to separation of the first and second stages would be considered a successful test flight given the size and complexity of the vehicle.
"Starship is the biggest rocket ever made. It's over twice the thrust of a Saturn 5, the Saturn 5 moon rocket, which is largest rocket ever to get to orbit, it's roughly twice the mass. So, we've got 33 engines on the booster, we've got six engines on the upper stage of the ship. It's a lot of engines,” Musk said.
"So I guess I would just like to set expectations low. If we get far enough away from the launch pad before something goes wrong, then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don't blow up the launch pad."
"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 says.
Starship is designed to convey people and cargo beyond Earth and is critical to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. Two years ago, SpaceX won a nearly $3 billion contract from NASA to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander. That would see Starship be used for as part of NASA’s Artemis moon program, delivering astronauts to the lunar surface from the agency’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule.
Starship is composed of a 230-foot-tall Starship "Super Heavy" first stage, which is powered by 33 methane-burning Raptor engines, and a bullet-shaped, a 160-foot-tall Starship second stage that is equipped with six Raptors of its own, as well as steerable fins at the nose and tail to control the ship during atmospheric re-entry from space. The two stages together can lift 100 tons to low-Earth orbit.
Both stages are designed to be fully reusable, descending to rocket-powered touchdowns for refurbishment and relaunch. For the first test flight, however, SpaceX did not plan to attempt recovering either stage.
Musk, gained the necessary approval last week from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the launch to go ahead after more than 500 days of painstaking analysis, environmental impact assessments, public comment and government mandated mitigations to minimize the impact of launch, or a catastrophic failure, on public health, property and the coastal environment around the Boca Chica launch site, in Texas.
For the duration of the launch equipment was on board to transmit telemetry to SpaceX and the FAA, giving investigators a detailed record of the rocket's performance up until the moment things went wrong.
The FAA official said the agency will investigate any such mishap "to verify that there were no public safety requirements that were not complied with, and that there is a robust investigation underway to get to the root cause of the mishap," the FAA official said.