Watch: SpaceX's Starship launch ends in fireball explosion after rocket fails to separate

Explosive Mishap: SpaceX’s Starship Mega-rocket crashes during orbital launch attempt

On Thursday, SpaceX’s Starship mega-rocket exploded during its maiden orbit launch. This is the latest in a series of explosive incidents related to the rocket. Despite this, Elon Musk’s ambitious vision for space exploration rests on the success of the Starship, which boasts impressive features such as being the tallest, most powerful, and fully reusable rocket ever launched. Musk established SpaceX with the ultimate goal of making space travel affordable enough to create a permanent human settlement on Mars, and the Starship is the key to achieving this objective.

Watch: SpaceX's Starship launch ends in fireball explosion after rocket fails to separate
Image credits- Mashable Me

Ship 24, a Starship spacecraft, was perched on top of its stainless steel Super Heavy booster, standing almost 400 feet tall at the newly licensed orbital launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday morning. At precisely 8:33 a.m. Central Time, the booster’s impressive array of 33 Raptor engines, each the size of a truck, roared to life, lifting the spacecraft off the ground. This momentous event marked the first time that Starship and Super Heavy had flown together.

The launch proceeded as expected until 2 minutes and 49 seconds into the flight, at which point Starship was scheduled to disconnect from the Super Heavy booster and proceed into space. However, this did not occur as intended, causing both the spacecraft and its booster to tumble uncontrollably through the air and plummet back towards Earth. SpaceX’s announcer and engineer, John Insprucker, expressed concern on the company’s live broadcast, acknowledging that the separation should have already taken place, and that the situation did not appear to be normal.

The fall

In the control room at SpaceX’s facilities, where Elon Musk was present, a sense of silence fell over the room as the rocket continued to tumble uncontrollably. This moment was brief, however, as the rocket ultimately exploded in a massive fireball. John Insprucker, SpaceX’s announcer and engineer, referred to the event as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of the Starship spacecraft.

The exact cause of the problem is yet to be determined, but mission managers have stated that four of the booster’s Raptor engines did not ignite during the flight, which may have contributed to the issue. Kate Tice, a SpaceX engineering manager, admitted during the broadcast that the clearing of the launch tower was the team’s sole hope. SpaceX had anticipated that the rocket would enter space, remain at orbital heights for around an hour, and then splash down intact in the Pacific Ocean north of the Hawaiian islands. Although Starship failed to achieve its intended height, it did transmit a breathtaking photo before the accident occurred.

Excitement about the progress

During a Twitter Spaces session on Sunday, Elon Musk expressed his greatest worry: if Starship were to “fireball” and cause damage to the launch pad, it would take several months for SpaceX to rebuild it. Musk had previously suggested that there was about a 50% chance of success, alluding to the possibility of a fiery explosion similar to those experienced by previous prototypes. In an interview on March 7 at the Morgan Stanley Conference, Musk remarked that he was not sure whether the rocket would reach orbit, but that he could guarantee it would be an exciting event. Despite the setback, this is unlikely to be the end of Starship. According to Musk, SpaceX is constructing multiple rockets, with an 80% probability of at least one of them achieving orbital heights.

SpaceX has stated that once it becomes fully operational, Starship will be capable of carrying up to 150 metric tonnes (165 US tons) into space. However, if the company opts to forego reusability and discards the spacecraft upon completion of the mission, that number increases to 250 metric tonnes (275 tons). To provide context, the most powerful currently operational rocket is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which can carry up to 70 tons into low-Earth orbit. No rocket system has yet achieved complete reusability. Although SpaceX has already achieved the reuse of the boosters on its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which return safely to Earth after deploying payloads to orbit, the upper stages of the rockets are currently discarded after launch.