SpaceX Starship Rocket Explodes in Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly During Second-Ever Launch

Earlier today (Nov. 18), SpaceX launched the most powerful spaceship ever built by humans to space on a second test flight. While the liftoff was successful, the Starship rocket did not last long during the test flight. Unlike the first test flight that exploded before separation on April 20th, this test flight successfully passed the separation stage.

However, the massive Super Heavy booster exploded moments after separation. The Starship upper-stage vehicle detonated itself before it could attain its target altitude.

The SpaceX team referred to the Starship detonation as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” The SpaceX team rejoiced at the level of technological progress they have made so far in the Starship development.

“What we do believe right now is that the automated flight termination system on the second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn, as we were headed downrange out over the Gulf of Mexico,” said John Insprucker, SpaceX’s principal integration engineer, during a live webcast today.

How Space Starship Rocket commenced Its Test Flight Today (Nov. 18)

The SpaceX Starship stacked atop the Super Heavy booster lifted off today at about 8 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT; 7 a.m. local Texas time) from SpaceX’s Starbase test and manufacturing facility in Boca Chica.

Hundreds of speculators and space enthusiasts gathered north of Boca Chica to watch the historic launch. Upon liftoff, the 33 first-stage Raptor engines of the Starship blazed through its plume of exhaust as the Megarocket began to ascend. The crowd cheered upon seeing the orange light coming from the Raptor engine.

The combination of the Starship and Super Heavy booster made the spaceship stand about 400 feet (122 meters) tall, making it the largest and most powerful rocket ever built by our civilization. The Starship is so huge that it can be seen from miles away when it stands at the Stabase launch pad.

Keep in mind that today’s test flight was the second for the fully integrated Starship which involves the combination of Starship upper-stage spacecraft stacked atop the Super Heavy first-stage booster. During the first test flight on April 20th of this year, the Starship exploded about four minutes into flight.

The SpaceX team activated the self-destruct command making it tumble and explode fully stacked. SpaceX revealed that the reason for the failure of its first test flight in April was attributed to technical issues suffered while attempting to separate Starship’s two stages. SpaceX noted the challenge and created a new method named “hot staging” to prevent the recurrence of the issue during today’s test flight.

What is Hot Staging?

Hot staging is a strategy in which the upper stage’s engines will start firing before Starship and Super Heavy complete their separation stage. However, this concept has already been used on space vehicles like the Titan II from NASA’s Gemini program in the 1960s and Russia’s venerable Soyuz rocket.

Even though it is no longer a new concept in developing space vehicles, it is still an innovative approach deployed by the SpaceX team for the success of the separation stage of the Starship and Super Heavy booster.

The good news is that it worked perfectly on the Starship. Hence, we should expect the company to repeat the Hot Staging strategy in future Starship launches.

How Space Super Heavy Separated From The Starship rocket Before Exploding

Unlike the April 20th stage separation attempt, the Starship’s stage separation occurred earlier today. In about 2 minutes and 41 seconds after liftoff, the SpaceX team administered the Hot Staging technique and safely separated the Super Heavy booster from the Starship. However, moments after this separation, the Super Heavy booster exploded

“We’re going to take that data and improve the hot staging sequence and probably improve the hardware itself for the next flight,” SpaceX quality engineering manager Kate Tice said during the live webcast. 

SpaceX anticipated soft-landing the Super Heavy in the Gulf of Mexico to test its reentry potential and landing processes. However, the explosion prevented the team from completing this test.

How SpaceX Starship rocket Exploded

As for the Starship, SpaceX anticipated establishing signal acquisition when it attained its target altitude of about 150 miles (250 kilometers). However, the team lost telemetry from the most sophisticated spacecraft about eight minutes after liftoff, near the end of its own after passing the stage separation.

Elon Musk and SpaceX mission managers were anxiously waiting to receive an update. However, the test flight was not completed because of the explosion. SpaceX never planned to send the Starship rocket to reach full orbit around Earth. The firm conducted the test flight to conduct a suborbital trajectory and safely splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.

“We’re not targeting orbit today; we’re targeting almost orbit,” said Siva Bharadvaj, a SpaceX operations engineer, adding that the goal was to “get to a thrust profile similar to what we would need for orbit, but also energy level that the ship would need to dissipate for reentry.”

Success Recorded During This Second Test Flight

Comparing today’s test flight to April 20th first test flight, you will see that SpaceX has made great progress. Unlike the first test flight which failed at the separation stage and exploded, the second test flight reached a higher altitude and flew for a longer period. Hence, SpaceX considered the second attempt as a more successful test flight.

The last telemetry signal from today’s launch was pegged at Starship’s altitude of 148 kilometers, or 91 miles. This implies that the Starship reached the boundary of space pegged at 62 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface.

“Honestly, it’s such an incredibly successful day even though we did have a rapid unscheduled disassembly of both the Super Heavy booster and the Ship,” Tice said. “That’s great. We got so much data, and that will all help us to improve for our next flight.”

What’s Next for Starship Test Flight?

SpaceX may target to conduct Starship test missions as frequently as once a month. If the firm maintains this launch attempt, it might meet the time frame for crewed launches such as Artemis 3. Note that this mission will land humans on the moon in either late 2025 or 2026.

SpaceX has achieved great success by launching its Falcon 9 rocket more than once a week. Hence, if the company could achieve such a milestone using its Falcon 9 rocket, it could possibly succeed with its Starship test flight soon.

Note that Elon Musk has a wide range of dreams for its Starship rocket development. These ambitions include sending humans to Mars to start a civilization on the red planet. However, these futuristic plans will only be possible once SpaceX achieves a successful test flight in the future.

Musk hopes that the evolved version of the Starship could serve as launching vehicles for landing, and possibly relaunching multiple times a day. This means that SpaceX could launch hundreds of Starship launches every week.

Conclusion

SpaceX launched the most powerful spaceship ever built by humans to space on a second test flight earlier today, (Nov. 18). However, the space vehicle ended in a disaster. The SpaceX team referred to the Starship rocket detonation as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” Check out these starship designs on Amazon.

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