After a scrubbed attempt on Monday, crews made a second attempt to launch SpaceX’s Starship on Thursday.
‘A dirty rain’
Update 3:23 p.m. EDT April 20: A man who was about 6 miles from the launch site said it was like a dirty rain that fell after the explosion.
Rob Nixon told CNN that he started seeing the wet particles about four or five minutes after the explosion.
“It was like a dirty rain,” he said. “Wet particulates falling down like a light drizzle,” Nixon said. He and his truck were covered in the particles that eventually dried.
“When dried, it was more of a dust. It was much finer than our local sand,” he added.
SpaceX initiated ‘flight termination system’
Update 3:07 p.m. EDT April 20: SpaceX confirmed Thursday afternoon that it terminated the flight of the Starship mission after several engines failed during the test flight, CNN reported.
“At 8:33 a.m. CT, Starship successfully lifted off from the orbital launch pad for the first time. The vehicle cleared the pad and beach as Starship climbed to an apogee of ~39 km over the Gulf of Mexico – the highest of any Starship to-date. The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble. The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship. As is standard procedure, the pad and surrounding area was cleared well in advance of the test, and we expect the road and beach near the pad to remain closed until tomorrow,” SpaceX said on its website.
“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.
“Thank you to our customers, Cameron County, and the wider community for the continued support and encouragement. And congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first flight test of Starship!”
No one was hurt in the explosion and no public property was damaged according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is overseeing the investigation into what happened.
Launch ends in explosion
Update 9:29 a.m. EDT April 20: The Super Heavy booster successfully ignited and blasted off just after 9:30 a.m., CNN reported. The uncrewed launch came after a brief hold because of the booster tank pressurization being “a little bit long” but the issue was quickly resolved.
About a minute after liftoff, SpaceX tweeted that Starship had cleared the launchpad and was on its flight path.
But moments after that tweet, it looked like the rocket exploded and was spinning, The New York Times reported.
SpaceX called it a “rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.”
While the unmanned launch didn’t go as intended, the SpaceX team said it will review the data produced from the event.
This isn’t the first time SpaceX has experienced a catastrophic failure during a test. A prototype Mars rocket exploded in 2020 when it returned from its approximately five-minute flight and slammed into the ground, instead of making its planned pinpoint landing, CNN reported.
Original story: Fueling began Thursday morning around 8 a.m. EDT for both the Super Heavy booster and Starship’s upper stage.
Monday’s launch was canceled after a problem developed with a pressurization system valve on the Super Heavy booster rocket. The valve appeared to have frozen.
But Thursday’s launch could also be canceled.
SpaceX engineer Jessie Andeson said on Wednesday, “If we do make an attempt tomorrow, the chances of scrubs are high.”
If the launch does light as planned, it will happen on 4/20, a number that SpaceX founder Elon Musk likes to add to several public events and related to cannabis, the Times reported. When he proposed to buy Twitter, he offered $54.20 and when he said he would take Telsa private it had to hit a share price of $420.
NASA is watching the SpaceX launch closely, as the success of Starship has a direct effect on the Artemis III mission. NASA will use a variant of Starship to land humans on the moon for the first time in more than 50 years.
Starship will not make a full orbit around the Earth when it eventually gets into space. Instead, the launch will take it to about 150 miles above the planet, traveling across the Gulf of Mexico and mostly around the Earth before it comes back into the atmosphere near Hawaii about an hour and a half after blast-off, CNN reported.
The Super Heavy booster has 33 SpaceX Raptor engines to produce 16 million pounds of thrust, the Times reported.
Both the booster and the spaceship are expected to crash into the ocean and sink, the newspaper reported. But in the future, both are expected to be reusable.
Musk has his sights set on a longer trip for his rocket — a mission to Mars. A mission to the red planet is why he started SpaceX as a vehicle to establish a settlement on Mars.