SpaceX’s Starship rocket explodes minutes into test launch

20 Apr 2023

SpaceX's Starship lifting off from a launch pad on 20 April. Image: SpaceX

The massive rocket suffered a ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’ in mid-air, but SpaceX said the test will help ‘improve Starship’s reliability’.

Starship, the largest rocket ever built, has exploded minutes after taking off during its first test flight today (20 April).

The 120-metre uncrewed rocket took off at roughly 2.33pm from a launch pad in Texas, after delays prevented the launch earlier this month.

But minutes into the test flight, SpaceX confirmed that the rocket experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” – exploded – before stage separation.

Despite the failure, SpaceX remained undeterred on Twitter and said the data from the test flight will be reviewed for the next attempt.

“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,” the company said.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk congratulated the team on an “exciting” test launch and said the company “learned a lot” for the next test launch in “a few months”.

Explosive testing

Starship is SpaceX’s fully reusable transport system, which aims to carry both crew and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond. The company is working to make Starship the most powerful launch vehicle ever created.

But the spacecraft’s development has seen some setbacks in testing over the years. Starship had its first successful launch and landing in August 2020, but this was followed by the SN8 prototype exploding during a test run in December of the same year.

In March 2021, the SN10 prototype completed a successful test flight but exploded after landing. The previous iteration SN9 had also exploded upon landing.

Similar to today’s explosion, none of these setbacks appeared to disappoint Musk at the time.

One of SpaceX’s most important earlier tests was successful in February of this year, when the engines of the Starship rockets were tested in preparation for its first flight. 31 of the 33 engines fired during the test, which Musk said at the time is ‘still enough’ to reach orbit.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic