SpaceX loses Starship on approach to space in test flight

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SpaceX said it lost its Starship spacecraft mid-flight, bringing an end to the second major test launch of Elon Musk’s deep-space launch system.

As the Starship spacecraft was heading to near orbit, it appeared to burst apart on the X livestream. Later, the hosts of the livestream said Starship likely had been lost, believing that the vehicle’s flight termination system activated while the vehicle was attempting to reach near orbit. The flight termination system is used to destroy a rocket if it starts to malfunction or deviates from its flight path during a launch.

“We think we may have lost the second stage, so we would not be in the coast phase,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the livestream, referring to the Starship spacecraft.
SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its Super Heavy rocket. The two vehicles separated as planned, before the Super Heavy booster burst apart and Starship continued onwards on its path to reach near orbit. Photo: Reuters

Starship successfully took off a little after 7am from SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, riding atop its massive Super Heavy booster. The flight appeared to begin smoothly, with the vehicle clearing the launch tower. The two vehicles separated as planned a little more than two and a half minutes into the mission, a feat that the SpaceX failed to accomplish on the vehicle’s first test flight in April.

Swiftly after separation, however, the Super Heavy booster burst apart for reasons not immediately clear, while Starship continued onwards on its path to reach near orbit. Roughly eight minutes into the flight, a large cloud of debris could be seen surrounding the Starship spacecraft, and SpaceX confirmed that it had lost data from the vehicle.

SpaceX, known for its iterative approach to rocket development, is likely to view the overall flight as a success given the new milestones it achieved.

“First stage looked beautiful with 33 Raptor engines firing,” Insprucker said. “We got the hot staging, you know the thing that we really wanted to see.”

For this flight, SpaceX introduced a rare technique known as hot staging for when Starship and Super Heavy break apart. Starship’s engines briefly ignited while still attached to the Super Heavy booster, giving it a slight kick as the two vehicles separated.

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