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SpaceX Launches Super Heavy-Starship Rocket on Second Test Flight, But Fails to Reach Space


Seven months after a catastrophic failure, SpaceX’s gargantuan Super heavy shipthe most powerful rocket ever built, took off on its second test flight Saturday, with the goal of propelling Starship’s unpiloted upper stage into space for the first time — but the mission fell short of that goal.

Shattering the morning calm at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site on the Texas Gulf Coast, the Super Heavy’s 33 methane-burning Raptor engines ignited with a torrent of fiery exhaust and a ground-shaking roar around 8 a.m. Eastern Time.

People watch SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket lift off from the company’s Boca Chica launch pad during an uncrewed test flight, seen from South Padre Island, Texas , November 18, 2023.

GO NAKAMURA / REUTERS


The 397-foot-tall rocket slowly rose into the sky gulping down 40,000 pounds of methane and liquid oxygen per second, providing a spectacular spectacle for thousands of area residents, tourists and journalists who watched from nearby South Padre Island.

However, the Super Heavy booster broke up shortly after launch, and then shortly after, SpaceX announced that it had lost the second stage as well, bringing the flight to an abrupt and premature end.

SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said it appeared the Starship’s self-destruct system had triggered near the end of the ascent.

The launch followed a first test flight on April 20 which ended in a spectacular fire four minutes after liftoff, when multiple first-stage engine failures, problems separating the Starship from the Super Heavy booster, and a catastrophic fall triggered the rocket’s self-destruct system.

Following the incident, the FAA ordered 63 “fixes” and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the company had implemented “well over a thousand ‘changes’ to improve safety.” and performance.

The flight plan called for the Super Heavy first stage to propel the Starship’s upper stage out of the lower atmosphere. From there, the Starship’s engines were supposed to continue the ascent into space. The ship was to circle the planet, re-enter the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and crash land north of Hawaii.

A successful flight would have marked a major milestone for both SpaceX and NASA, which is spending billions on a Starship variant to bring Artemis astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

SpaceX is counting on the rocket to significantly expand its fleet of Starlink internet satellites and to power possible low-cost government and commercial flights to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Several test flights will be needed to demonstrate the reliability required for astronaut flights and it is not yet clear how long this might take or when the first Artemis moon landing might take place.



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