Miami, Apr 20 (EFE).- SpaceX’s huge Starship rocket, 390 feet in length and by far the world’s most powerful rocket, blew up just minutes after lifting off from the company’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday morning.
The rocket – designed to take heavy payloads into Earth orbit or to the Moon – lifted off on its first uncrewed test flight shortly after 8:28 am local time, successfully cleared its launch pad on the Texas Gulf coast and was 23 miles high and even more miles down-range to the east over the Gulf of Mexico before it began tumbling about a little less than four minutes into the flight and exploded moments later.
SpaceX’s billionaire owner Elon Musk had said in March that the chances of the rocket reaching orbit were less than 50 percent, but after the failure of the mission he sent out a Twitter message thanking the launch team and encouraging them to continue working on developing the rocket with the aim of creating a launch vehicle that can carry humans to the Moon and Mars.
“Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months,” Musk tweeted.
“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 said, which despite the destruction of the rocket said that the test results were positive.
Musk had told reporters on Saturday that “Starship is the biggest rocket ever made. It’s over twice the thrust of … 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.”
“So I guess I would just like to set expectations low,” Musk said. “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.”
The launch on Thursday was the second attempt by SpaceX to get the Starship aloft.
The firm had to scrub its launch scheduled for last Monday after technicians discovered that a pressure valve was frozen.
SpaceX said that its engineers will continue reviewing the launch data and working to prepare for another test flight in several months.
So far, SpaceX has released no specific information as to why the rocket unexpectedly exploded.
The test flight had been scheduled to last for 90 minutes with the recoverable Super Heavy portion of the rocket landing in the Gulf of Mexico while the upper Starship section – also fully reusable – was to travel most of the way around the Earth before splashing down near Hawaii.
However, both the Super Heavy first stage of the rocket and the Starship second stage were still attached to one another when the rocket went out of control and then blew up moments later.
The enormous rocket can carry 100 to 150 tons of cargo and is powered by some 10 million pounds of liquid rocket fuel.
NASA is paying SpaceX billions of dollars to build a variant of the Starship rocket stage to carry astronauts to the lunar surface – perhaps by late 2025 – as part of its Artemis mission program.
SpaceX reportedly considered the launch phase of the flight to be the critical element and wanted to be sure that the powerful rocket engines worked, but so far the firm has released no details regarding the technical problems that led to the mishap.
The Starship, when it is fully functional, is being designed to transport up to 100 people on long-duration interplanetary flights.