Starship takes longer to explode on second test launch

20 Nov 2023

Image: SpaceX

The world’s biggest rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX experienced a ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’ after its first successful stage separation over the weekend.

SpaceX says it has made significant progress in building the world’s biggest functioning rocket, Starship, after a second test launch saw it go further and higher than the first time.

When launched for the first time in April, Starship – a 120-metre uncrewed rocket – exploded minutes after taking off and before stage separation. SpaceX described the event as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” at the time.

“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 multiplanetary,” the company said.

This time around, the Elon Musk-founded company said Starship successfully lifted off and made it through the first stage of separation on Saturday (18 November).

According to a statement on the SpaceX website, the booster that propelled the rocket experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” following the successful stage separation.

Starship’s six second-stage Raptor engines also fired for “several minutes” as the rocket climbed to an altitude of around 150km.

“We’ll continue to share updates here as the team reviews data from today’s test. Thank you to our customers, Cameron County, and the wider community for the continued support and encouragement,” the company said.

A statement from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US noted that the Starship mishap that occurred after its launch from Boca Chica, Texas, resulted in a loss of the vehicle but no injuries or damage to public property were reported.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson congratulated the SpaceX team for making progress on Starship.

“Spaceflight is a bold adventure demanding a can-do spirit and daring innovation. Today’s test is an opportunity to learn – then fly again,” he posted on X. Together, NASA and SpaceX will return humanity to the moon, Mars and beyond.”

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.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic