SpaceX’s uncrewed spacecraft Starship, developed to carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, has failed in space shortly after lifting off – cutting short its second test, but making it further than an earlier attempt that ended in an explosion.
The two-stage rocket ship blasted off from the Elon Musk-owned company’s Starbase launch site near Boca Chica in Texas on Saturday, helping boost the Starship spacecraft as high as 148km above ground on a planned 90-minute test mission to space and back.
But the rocket’s Super Heavy first stage booster, although it achieved a crucial manoeuvre to separate with its core stage, exploded over the Gulf of Mexico shortly after detaching, a SpaceX webcast showed.
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The core Starship stage boosted further toward space, but a few minutes later a company broadcaster said that SpaceX mission control suddenly lost contact with the vehicle.
“We have lost the data from the second stage… we think we may have lost the second stage,” SpaceX engineer and livestream host John Insprucker said.
He added that engineers believe an automated flight termination command was triggered to destroy the rocket, although the reason was unclear.
The launch of a two-stage rocketship marks the second attempt to fly Starship on a rocket booster. Credit: AP
About eight minutes into the test mission, a camera view tracking the Starship booster appeared to show an explosion that suggested the vehicle failed at that time.
The rocket’s altitude was 148 km.
The launch was the second attempt to fly Starship mounted atop its towering Super Heavy rocket booster, following an April attempt that ended in failure about four minutes after lift-off.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it will oversee a SpaceX-led investigation into the testing failure and will need to approve SpaceX’s plan to prevent it from happening again.
Billionaire Elon Musk is the owner of SpaceX. Credit: EPA
The mission’s objective was to get Starship off the ground in Texas and into space just shy of reaching orbit, then plunge through earth’s atmosphere for a splashdown off Hawaii’s coast.
Starship’s failure to meet all of its test objectives could pose a setback for SpaceX.
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