Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched its next-generation Starship rocket in an uncrewed test flight on Thursday, marking a significant milestone for the company. However, the flight ended in a mid-air explosion minutes after liftoff, when the upper-stage Starship failed to separate from the lower-stage Super Heavy as designed, causing the combined vehicle to flip end over end before exploding.
The rocketship, which stood taller than the Statue of Liberty at 394 feet (120 m) high, blasted off from the company’s Starbase spaceport and test facility in Texas. Despite the mid-flight failure, SpaceX officials declared the test flight a success, as the fully integrated Starship and booster rocket were successfully launched.
SpaceX has been working on the Starship rocket for years, with the goal of carrying cargo and people beyond Earth. The rocket is crucial to NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon, and the agency awarded SpaceX a nearly $3 billion contract to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander as part of its Artemis moon program.
Although SpaceX had hoped to conduct the first orbital Starship launch in the summer of 2021, delays in development and securing FAA approval caused a delay. However, with FAA approval granted late last week, the company was able to attempt the launch, which despite the mid-flight failure, marks an important step forward for SpaceX and the Starship rocket.