SpaceX reveals why Starship exploded minutes into launch
SpaceX activated 'flight termination system' for Starship as rocket veered off course
SpaceX revealed that it activated its "flight termination system" Thursday during the first test flight of the Starship and Super Heavy rocket.
The nearly 400-foot-tall Starship — the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, with 33 engines — was essentially told to self-destruct as it veered off its planned course. It was carrying no people or satellites when it launched from southern Texas.
"The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude and began to tumble. The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship," SpaceX said in a statement, noting that the vehicle had climbed to the highest apogee of any other in its fleet to-date.
The whole test lasted for about four minutes before the rocket fell into water. A previous attempt on Monday had been scrubbed due to a frozen booster valve.
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SpaceX broadcasters described the explosion as a "rapid unscheduled disassembly."
"Obviously this does not appear to be a nominal situation," SpaceX’s aerospace engineer John Insprucker said during the live broadcast of the launch.
"With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems today that will help us improve on future flights of Starship," said SpaceX.
Founder Elon Musk tweeted that the company had "learned a lot for the next test launch in a few months." Musk had previously given 50–50 odds that the spacecraft would reach orbit.
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"Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward. Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test – and beyond," NASA administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.
NASA has reserved a Starship for its next moon-walking team.
Following the flight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded the vehicle.
The agency said it would oversee the mishap investigation of the test mission, noting that "an anomaly occurred during the ascent and prior to stage separation resulting in a loss of the vehicle."
No injuries or damage to public property have been reported. The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during both commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations.
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"A return to flight of the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle is based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations," it said in a statement emailed to FOX Business Digital on Friday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.