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The spacecraft, which one day may take humans back to the Moon and possibly to Mars with the help of reusable rockets, successfully took off without a crew from the coast of southern Texas and separated from its booster.
Though the vehicle and its booster reportedly exploded one after the other in the minutes that followed over the Gulf of Mexico, meaning SpaceX did not reach its goal of having the Starship reach orbit and then splash down into Pacific Ocean, the company said the test will provide “invaluable data” to help it continue perfecting the model.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 18, 2023
“Starship successfully lifted off under the power of all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster and made it through a successful stage separation. The booster experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly after its boostback burn following the successful stage separation while Starship’s 6 second stage Raptor engines fired for several minutes as the Ship climbed to an altitude of ~150 kilometers,” SpaceX said in a statement.
“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 added.
This weekend’s launch appears to have been a marked improvement over SpaceX’s test flight in April, which resulted in an explosion when the ship and booster failed to separate.
“They have fixed issues identified in their first flight and got further than ever before with this type of vehicle,” said Phil Larson, a White House space adviser during former President Barack Obama’s administration who later helped with communications at SpaceX, according to The New York Times. “The magic of engineering is that it is all about learning, iterating the design, and reflying again soon.”
Still, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a statement that described what transpired during the test on Saturday as a “mishap,” though the agency stressed that the “anomaly” did not lead to any reports of injuries or public property damage.
Just inspected the Starship launch pad and it is in great condition!
No refurbishment needed to the water-cooled steel plate for next launch.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2023
“The FAA will oversee the [SpaceX-led] mishap investigation to ensure SpaceX complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements,” the FAA added.
In a post to X on Sunday, Musk said the Starship launch pad was in “great condition” after he inspected it and noted that no refurbishment was “needed to the water-cooled steel plate for next launch.” He also congratulated the SpaceX team and contractors for “building such a robust system so rapidly.”