Elon Musk’s huge space rocket, Starship, part of the SpaceX programme, exploded yesterday on its maiden test flight. The rocket was unmanned and nobody was hurt in the incident. While the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for licensing rocket launches in the USA, will oversee an investigation into the accident, this will be standard practice for any vehicle lost in flight.
It became apparent after just one minute into the flight that all was not well. Six of the 33 engines had either been shut down or had flamed out. After three minutes the two halves of the rocket should have separated, which did not happen, and it began to veer off course. At launch-plus-four-minutes, there was a large explosion which occurred as the Starship rocket began to lose altitude. It is likely this explosion was as a result of the Flight Termination System (FTS) being triggered.
The intention of the mission was to send the ship on one near-complete revolution of the Earth, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific, a couple of hundred km north of Hawaii. There was no plan to recover any parts of the rocket, though in the long term, the plan would be to land both halves, refuel them and launch again – multiple times.
“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems today that will help us improve on future flights of Starship,” SpaceX said in a statement. SpaceX engineers still view this 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,” Musk tweeted.