SpaceX’s massive Starship took off from the southernmost point of Texas on Thursday morning, marking the first launch of the rocket’s two segments together.
However, the highly anticipated launch was short-lived when the rocket experienced what SpaceX called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” just minutes after takeoff while waiting for stage separation. The spacecraft began tumbling before it exploded four minutes into the flight and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The cause of the malfunction is currently unknown.
“Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for the next test launch in a few months,” SpaceX owner Elon Musk tweeted.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 20, 2023
SpaceX said in a statement that its team would continue reviewing data and working towards the 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,” the statement read.
The inaugural Starship mission was not carrying people or satellites. The rocket’s massive size of nearly 400 feet high, means it will not be recoverable.
Boca Chica, a wildlife refuge along the Texas coast, has drawn the ire of the American Bird Conservancy, which highlighted the negative impacts of SpaceX’s operations on critical bird habitats at the facility.
NASA has reserved a Starship for its upcoming lunar excursion as early as 2025. The spacecraft’s immense power of 16.7 million pounds of thrust would help unroll the second phase of the Moon and Mars exploration. Musk hopes to achieve full and rapid reusability within a couple of years.
The flight cancellation comes after the first, on Monday, was abandoned due to a problem during fueling caused by a stuck valve.