By Victor Tangermann,
Published by The Byte, 20 April 2023
That looked painful
Cleared the Pad
For a hot minute, it looked like SpaceX had done the seemingly impossible.
The space company’s gigantic Starship prototype spacecraft and Super Heavy booster officially cleared the launch pad this morning at the company’s South Texas testing facilities, an epic conclusion to many years of development.
It was a spectacular sight, given the sheer size of the rocket. The stainless steel tower lifted off at a slight angle, igniting dozens of Raptor rocket engines at once.
But several minutes into its maiden voyage — the stack reached a height of just over 24 miles — the 400-foot tower started spinning uncontrollably and eventually exploded in a huge cloud of gas, likely the result of the rocket’s self-destruct system.
It was a sobering failure for the Elon Musk-led venture. It’s still unclear what exactly led to its early demise, but it still was one hell of a test flight — and one that SpaceX can likely learn a lot from.
Unscheduled Rapid Disassembly
During the live stream, SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker referred to the event as an “unscheduled rapid disassembly,” a tongue-in-cheek term for an explosion.
But there’s plenty to be learned from the “anomaly.”
“This was a developmental test, the first test flight of Starship, and the goal was to gather the data, clear the pad, and go again,” he added. “Excitement is guaranteed.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, however, appeared far less amused during the live stream, and did little to hide his disappointment while blankly staring at the screen ahead of him.
Fortunately, the launch site is still standing, meaning that SpaceX may be able to try again in the not-so-distant future.
Despite the setback, the launch could still set the stage for a new era in space exploration, a proof of concept of a reusable ultra-heavy-launch vehicle that could return humans to the surface of the Moon and even deliver them to Mars.
“Welcome to the Starship era, humanity,” Ars Technica‘s Eric Berger tweeted. “It began with a bang, as big things often do. The universe awaits.”
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