SpaceX’s Starship rocket system, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, has exploded during its test flight in Texas. The rocket, which was designed to eventually carry up to 100 astronauts and transport people on long-duration interplanetary flights, was the first “fully stacked” trial of the Starship cruise vessel placed on top of the Super Heavy booster rocket. However, the spacecraft was unable to separate properly after takeoff, causing the failure.
The 120-metre mammoth spacecraft stands almost as long as three passenger jets, making it 10 metres taller than the Saturn V rocket that sent humans to the moon in 1969. Despite the explosion, SpaceX said that the flight test was still exciting and that it would gather data regardless of whether the full mission was achieved. The company had previously cautioned that the chances of success were low.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, developed Starship to eventually colonize Mars and make humans an interplanetary species. He said that the colonisation of Mars was necessary to preserve humanity in case a planet-destroying event, such as nuclear war or an asteroid strike, wipes out life on Earth. SpaceX has already scheduled a privately funded trip for 11 people around the moon this year, and longer-term plans to use the spacecraft as a shuttle for commercial travel on Earth, promising trips from London to Tokyo in under one hour.
The reusability of rockets makes space flight significantly cheaper than what Nasa could offer, according to Musk. Unlike Nasa, which attempts to avoid risk, SpaceX has a record of showing a willingness to have test flights explode. The private venture benefits from understanding what goes wrong during test flights, and Musk says it is essential for improving future launches.
SpaceX built its own spaceport, named Starbase, on the Gulf of Mexico in Boca Chica, Texas, to launch its rockets, and several other Starships are already in production for future tests. Both the upper and lower segments of the Starship system are designed to power themselves safely back to Earth for a soft landing so they can be reused.
The failure of the Starship test flight was attributed to the inability of the two sections of the rocket system, the booster and cruise vessel, to separate properly after takeoff. The explosion occurred about four minutes after leaving the ground. SpaceX employees still cheered even after the rocket exploded, and the company said that it would continue to gather data for future launches.
Although the timing of the privately funded trip for 11 people around the moon this year appears unrealistic due to the Starship’s failure, SpaceX has announced longer-term plans to use the spacecraft for commercial travel on Earth, which will promise fast trips between major cities.