Watch: SpaceX test launch of Starship ends in a double explosion

SpaceX’s second test flight of the Starship spacecraft, intended for future human missions to the moon and Mars, concluded with an explosion on Saturday morning shortly after liftoff from the Boca Chica spaceport in Texas. The launch, atop the Super Heavy rocket, the world’s largest, occurred just after 8 AM ET.

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Following the stage separation, where the Super Heavy booster detached from Starship, the rocket’s first stage experienced an explosion. Remarkably, Starship continued its flight for several more minutes, surpassing the duration of its previous test. Around the 8-minute mark in the livestream, a faint explosion was visible, and the hosts later confirmed the loss of contact with the spacecraft.

Unlike the first test that concluded approximately 39 kilometres above Earth, Starship successfully reached space during this flight, reaching an altitude of around 148 kilometres at the time of the explosion.

This flight marked SpaceX’s inaugural attempt at a new separation technique known as “hot staging,” involving the ignition of Starship’s engines before detaching from the still-firing first stage. Despite the Super Heavy explosion, Starship executed the necessary motions with some distance between the two. SpaceX will now assess adjustments to the booster to enhance its resilience during future hot-staging attempts.

Despite the explosion, SpaceX considers the test a success. Kate Tice, one of the livestream hosts and a quality engineering manager at SpaceX, characterized it as “an incredibly successful day,” acknowledging the “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of both the Super Heavy booster and the ship. Tice emphasized the valuable data collected during the test, which will contribute to enhancements for upcoming flights.