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SpaceX Starship launch: all of the news on its test flight and that explosive ending

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Elon Musk’s stated goal of putting humans on Mars relies heavily on the development of a next-generation reusable spacecraft, and Starship (formerly known as Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR) attempted its first orbital test flight. It’s not the “six months” goal Musk projected in 2019, but after a number of suborbital tests that included some terrific successes and fantastic, fiery failures, the big day is finally here.

According to the original plan, the Starship would fly to orbital velocity after separating from its Super Heavy booster rocket about three minutes into the trip and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

However, on the first try, at least, things didn’t go to script all the way through. The spacecraft began spiraling and corkscrewing (at least from the perspective of ground cameras) and “experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly” before Starship’s planned separation from the first stage.

Image: SpaceX

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a tweet that the next Starship test will occur “in a few months.”

In a statement, SpaceX writes, “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.”

You can watch how it all went down from SpaceX’s video feed here, cued up to just a few seconds before launch.

Read on for all the latest news about SpaceX’s first Starship orbital test flight.

  • SpaceX hypes up its next Starship flight test while ignoring a report about workplace injuries.

    The FAA still hasn’t cleared SpaceX to attempt another Starship orbital launch from its Boca Chica, TX, site after the first one caused significant damage to the pad and surrounding environment. SpaceX’s website and this teaser trailer indicate it’s ready to try again as soon as November 17th.

    Those are also popping up on the same day as a report from Reuters documenting 600 injuries to SpaceX workers since 2014.

    The records included reports of more than 100 workers suffering cuts or lacerations, 29 with broken bones or dislocations, 17 whose hands or fingers were “crushed,” and nine with head injuries, including one skull fracture, four concussions and one traumatic brain injury.

    Musk himself at times appeared cavalier about safety on visits to SpaceX sites: Four employees said he sometimes played with a novelty flamethrower and discouraged workers from wearing safety yellow because he dislikes bright colors.

  • SpaceX’s next Starship launch is on hold as FAA lists 63 ‘corrective actions’ needed

    SpaceX Starship protoype shown mounted on a launch tower without the Super Heavy booster rocket attached
    SpaceX Starship prototype
    Image: SpaceX

    The first orbital launch attempt for SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy booster in April ended explosively about four minutes into its test flight, and the FAA isn’t ready to clear a follow-up attempt yet. Today, the agency closed its mishap investigation and said the report identified 63 actions that need to be implemented by SpaceX before launches can resume. They include redesigns to prevent leaks and fires, a redesigned launch pad, and other fixes.

    A new post from SpaceX discussing “Upgrades ahead of Starships’s second flight test” appeared shortly afterward that didn’t directly reference the 63 actions, but its details on why the first test flight lost control reflect what the FAA says needs to be addressed.

    Read Article >
  • Wes Davis

    Aug 26

    Wes Davis

    The environmental damage of SpaceX’s Starship explosion in April surprised wildlife experts.

    The Starship launch that destroyed its launch pad and scattered detritus for miles in Boca Chica, Texas in May reportedly left biologists for the Fish and Wildlife Service in private disbelief, reported Bloomberg yesterday.

    Concrete chunks had left craters a foot deep and were strewn across tidal flats, almost four acres of state park were burned, and seven bobwhite quail eggs and a collection of blue land crabs had been incinerated.

    The FAA seeks the dismissal of a related lawsuit filed against it in May by environmental groups and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas.

  • SpaceX just ran a static fire test of its Super Heavy booster rocket and new flame deflector.

    SpaceX just tested the first stage Super Heavy booster and its new flame deflector system for protecting the launch pad from the destruction experienced during the May Starship orbital test flight.

    This is in preparation for another Starship flight test. In between touting a fight with Mark Zuckerberg and promising to pay legal bills, Elon Musk has said he believes “we have ~50% probability of reaching orbital velocity, however even getting to stage separation would be a win.”

  • Wes Davis

    May 27

    Wes Davis

    Elon says Starship will be ready to fly again in two months.

    A little over a month after Starship obliterated its launchpad and went kablooey before it reached stage separation, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that it will be ready again in about two months, pending launchpad upgrades and rocket testing.

    Yesterday, SpaceX released a dramatic video recapping the first flight, if you want to watch it with synth-heavy piano music behind it.

  • The Starship took a chunk out of its launch tower and everything underneath.

    This picture, apparently posted to a forum for Beechcraft airplane owners, claims to show the damage underneath the tower where Starship launched on Thursday.

    In some video footage of the launch, you can see what’s said to be large pieces of concrete flying into the air along with Starship.

    Elon Musk previously tweeted that not building in a flame diverter “could turn out to be a mistake,” but it looks like Starship dug one of its own anyway, prompting several people to say the company designed reusable rockets with single use launch mounts.

  • Starship flight test report.

    SpaceX’s official word on the flight test and explosion:

    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.

    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!

  • The Starship launch wrecked this minivan.

    A van holding cameras for the NASASpaceFlight crew took the impact of debris kicked up by SpaceX’s Starship launch yesterday, as seen in this grab from LabPadre’s broadcast.

    But the dust didn’t stop there — the New York Times reports homes in cities miles away were covered in brown grime, supporting claims that the projections for environmental impact didn’t properly account for the power of the Super Heavy booster.

  • This is where Starship went off track.

    We don’t know why the first Starship test flight ended in flames, but this shot posted on Twitter by Michael Baylor provides the clearest look at the spacecraft as it started to go off the planned flight path.

    On the NASASpaceflight YouTube stream, the hosts noted a report that 5 or 6 of the booster rocket engines shut down before the “rapid unscheduled disassembly” ended things entirely.

  • Emma Roth

    Apr 20

    Emma Roth

    SpaceX’s Starship successfully takes off before bursting into flames

    An image showing Starship taking off
    Screenshot: SpaceX

    SpaceX’s integrated Starship spacecraft successfully took off from its launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday but didn’t manage to fully complete its test flight. The spacecraft spun out of control before bursting into a ball of flames about four minutes into its flight, cutting the test short.

    In a statement on Twitter, SpaceX said, “Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.” During today’s 90-minute test flight, Starship was supposed to reach an altitude of about 150 miles during a journey around the globe before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. SpaceX scrubbed its first test flight attempt on April 17th due to a “frozen” pressurant valve.

    Read Article >
  • The next Starship test launch will come “in a few months.”

    After years of waiting, the first orbital test flight for SpaceX’s Starship ended explosively after a few minutes. Now Elon Musk says in a tweet that the team “Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months.”

  • More views.

    Another look at the Starship launch.

  • Things got off to a good start.

    We know how it ended, but this is how the flight test began.

    Subsequent tweets from SpaceX said, “As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation. Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test. With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary. Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first integrated flight test of Starship!

  • Rapid unscheduled disassembly.

    That’s one way to describe the end of Starship’s first test flight. On the NASA Spaceflight stream, those who were present described it as a primarily auditory experience, so even the videos and GIFs may not capture whatever just happened.

  • And... it’s over.

    The flight test didn’t make it all the way to Hawaii as projected, but it did clear the tower. From the streams, we could see some of the booster’s engines shutting down before it went into a spin, and eventually, the flight was terminated, as the craft blew up just a couple of minutes into the test flight.

    Image: SpaceX
  • Liftoff.

    The first SpaceX Starship orbital test flight is on its way.

    Image: SpaceX
  • HOLD.

    No word on why or for how long, but the Starship launch isn’t happening just yet. The flight director announced a hold, which SpaceX’s broadcast previously noted could occur for up to 15 minutes or so; we’ll update once we have more details.

    Image: SpaceX
  • Just a few minutes left.

    The countdown continues to tick away, and we haven’t heard of any issues that will stop today’s Starship flight test.

    On the livestream, the commentators note there is an ability to hold at 40 seconds left, so stay tuned.

    Image: SpaceX (YouTube)
  • T-10.

    No word on any wayward boats or aircraft, and SpaceX seems to think they’ve got the valve issue that scrubbed Monday’s attempt figured out, so we may see the Starship test launch attempt today.

  • Engine chill.

    If you’re watching the NASA Spaceflight stream, you’ll see even more exhaust coming from the spacecraft, as its Raptor engines are chilled in preparation for launch.

  • Something else to consider.

    Elon Musk and SpaceX’s rocket launch plans for the “Starbase” at Boca Chica, TX, have had opposition for quite a while. Still, in light of today’s Starship flight test attempt and the recent FAA license issued, some folks have revisited the possible environmental impact.

    Freelance journalist Pablo De La Rosa notes local opposition to the launch, while on Substack, ESG Hound goes into issues with noise and the overall design of the launch site.

    ESG Hound:

    I still am in shock that a rocket system, the largest in history, will be fired off, from an inadequate facility, in the middle of an endangered species habitat, by a company that revels in the beautiful failure of explosions with seemingly no guardrails and no respect for the real danger this operation presents to the public.

  • T-33 minutes.

    No notes about weather this time.

  • Status update.

    As noted by the NASA Spaceflight folks, SpaceX continues to check off items on the pre-launch list, now fueling the Starship prototype itself.

    Meanwhile, SpaceX’s official livestream has kicked off with a bit of music before the commentators hop into the stream.

  • While you’re here, have you visited Rocketland?

    With an hour-plus to go until the Starship launch window opens at 9:28AM ET, you still have time to check out our story and video about the SpaceX superfans who literally moved just to follow the company’s developments in Texas and who have been waiting for (what might happen) today as eagerly as anyone.

    It’s 20 minutes long; you’ll still be able to see a rocket spewing smoke on the launchpad when it’s done.

  • And Mission Control audio.

    Another alternative to the main video feed for the Starship test launch is SpaceX’s own Mission Control Audio stream. For official communications, first, this is the one you want, however, it comes without visuals and, as the caption mentions, “There may be very long periods of silence.”