SpaceX’s Starship Rocket Explodes Shortly After Liftoff

SpaceX attempted to send its Starship system into space on Thursday, with the massive rocket exploding shortly after liftoff.

The mishap potentially complicates Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s goal to send humans back to the moon and to deep-space destinations including Mars. Thursday’s test was a crucial one for Starship, the largest rocket ever built, and meant to show that the vehicle could reach space and complete a partial orbit of Earth.

The explosion occurred just under four minutes after Starship lifted off from the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, early morning on Thursday. The rocket failed to separate from its Super Heavy booster, causing a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” according to SpaceX.

The company hasn’t released more information about what caused the mishap. Shortly after the explosion, Musk tweeted that the next test launch would take place “in a few months.”

Starship was conceived to bring people — including NASA astronauts — and cargo such as satellites into Earth’s orbit and beyond. The rocket is more powerful than any previous crewed spacecraft and taller than the Saturn V, which took humans to the moon. The launch vehicle system also had been designed to be fully reusable, which SpaceX promises will reduce costs.

The company, formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp., suggested on the livestream that the attempt may still provide valuable information, and that simply blasting off could be considered a success. Musk had also sought to temper expectations earlier in the week.

“I would like to just set expectations,” Musk said during an audio discussion on Twitter on April 16. “We get far enough away from the launchpad before something goes wrong, then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don’t blow up the launchpad.”

The attempt Thursday came after a few stops and starts. SpaceX had originally planned to launch the uncrewed test mission on April 17 before calling it off about 10 minutes before the scheduled takeoff due to a frozen pressure valve on the rocket.

Musk has long been obsessed with April 20 — also known as 4/20, commonly associated with smoking marijuana and seemingly willed the launch date into existence. When the launch was originally set for April 17, Musk tweeted that he had “a feeling it might get delayed 3 days…” And in a reply to a meme illustrating the possibility of Starship launching on April 20th, Musk wrote that it was “Fate.”

The rocket lifted off from the Starbase facility at approximately 8:33 a.m. local time on Thursday, and climbed to a peak altitude of 39 kilometers (24 miles) over the Gulf of Mexico, not far from Boca Chica. There, some mishap occurred, apparently during the moment when stage separation was planned, causing the vehicle to move off course, the company said. At roughly four minutes, the Starship launch system exploded at 29 kilometers.

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