SpaceX’s Starship mega-rocket burst into a fireball during its first attempt to launch into orbit on Thursday, adding yet another incident to the rocket’s explosive history. Elon Musk’s grandest plans hinge on Starship, which promises to be the tallest, most powerful, and the only fully reusable rocket to ever be launched.
Musk founded SpaceX with the goal of making spaceflight cheap enough to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Starship is the rocket that’s supposed to make that happen.
Everything went according to plan until 2 minutes and 49 seconds into the flight, when Starship was supposed to separate from the Super Heavy booster and continue into space. That didn’t happen. Instead, the rocket and its booster tumbled through the air, falling back toward Earth.
A hush fell over the control room at SpaceX’s facilities, where Musk himself was watching, until the tumbling rocket exploded in a fireball. It’s not yet clear what caused the issue, though mission managers said that four of the booster’s Raptor engines were not firing during flight.
Starship’s size, strength, and full reusability are the cornerstones of SpaceX’s mission to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Once fully operational, Starship will be able to carry up to 150 metric tonnes (165 US tons) to space, according to SpaceX. That jumps to 250 metric tonnes (275 tons) if the company forgoes reusability and discards the spaceship, Starship, when the mission is done