April 20 was meant to be a historic day for the SpaceX Starship as it was meant to accomplish its first orbital test flight today. However, the starship explodes four minutes after liftoff. What is the actual cause of this explosion and what has SpaceX learned so far? Continue reading to find out.
How SpaceX Planned to Fly the Starship During its First Orbital Flight
If the mission has gone as planned, the spaceship 33 Raptor engines will ignite at the base of the vehicle and lift off while clearing its path at the Starbase before going into ascent. About three minutes into ascent, the super heavy booster is supposed to separate from the starship. At this point, the booster will perform a flip maneuver and execute a boost backburn. SpaceX team anticipates targeting a hard landing of the booster in the Gulf of Mexico.
While the booster descent after three minutes, Starship six second stage engines will ignite and continue to ascent for about an hour reaching an altitude ranging between 150 to 250 kilometers. After reaching this milestone, the starship will reenter the atmosphere and make its own hard landing in the Pacific Ocean about 250 kilometers offshore.
How the SpaceX Starship Explodes Four Minutes After Ascend
During the liftoff stage, the Starship’s first stage booster called the Super Heavy did not light up all of its cylinders. SpaceX team revealed that three of its 33 raptor engines did not ignite at liftoff and two more engines failed during the brief ascend. However, the 28 Raptors were powerful enough to keep the starship ascending high into the Sky of Texas. About 33 seconds into the flight, there was a brief bright flash that came from those engines. SpaceX engineers never expected anything like this to occur.
Despite the bright flash of light, the Starship kept on ascending and passed the Max-Q gauntlet in one piece at around T+80 seconds. SpaceX team and lovers of the Cosmos celebrated this milestone while hoping for a successful test flight. The next big stage should have occurred during separation. However, this is where the starship failed and the vehicle began to perform a flip it should execute after separation.
As this unexpected flip ahead of stage separation continued to happen, the Super Heavy’s engines kept on burning. At this moment, the vehicle started to tumble. Hence, the separation never happened and the booster’s engines kept on firing longer than the planned cutoff point. SpaceX planned to keep the booster firing for about two minutes and 49 seconds after launch.
However, it fired longer than this. The full-stack starship continued tumbling for the next minute and later exploded at about three minutes and 59 seconds after liftoff. This may have occurred as SpaceX activated the vehicle’s flight termination system at that moment. However, more investigations will reveal why the starship failed to separate and what led to the tumbling and explosion.
What SpaceX learned from this explosion
SpaceX starship was launched from the company’s StarBase facility in South Texas today, April 20. While the first four minutes of this mission appear hopeful, the most powerful space rocket ever built by humans exploded four minutes after the launch. After the bang of explosions, pieces of stainless-steel craft kept on raining down into the Gulf of Mexico.
SpaceX announced that the explosion of the starship was no disaster as they were not expecting complete success from the space launch. The company is excited that the starship succeeded in lifting off from its launch tower as this point was when stresses are at the peak on the space vehicle. While the booster was ascending the starship into space, five of its 33 raptor engines failed to function.
As the remaining 28 raptor engines can no longer keep the starship going, the spaceship began to spin and it ended in a rapid unscheduled disassembly. However, SpaceX is still going to conduct advanced testing to see the actual cause of the disassembly of the Starship during its Early stage of ascent.
“Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting first integrated flight test of Starship!” the company tweeted shortly after the vehicle’s failure. “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,” it added in another tweet.
While the starship was disassembled in an early stage, it still accomplished some of SpaceX’s goals. The data tracker SpaceX provided during the launch webcast showed that the spaceship successfully reached a maximum altitude of about 24 miles (39 kilometers). Assuming that the explosion occurred at the launch pad, it would have destroyed SpaceX’s huge orbital launch tower at Starbase. This would significantly setback the next starship orbital test flight.
Even though the Starship exploded four minutes into launch, the SpaceX team has learned a lot from the test flight. Hopefully, SpaceX engines and technicians will implement the knowledge of this test flight into future testing. What are your thoughts about this?