SpaceX: Starship giant rocket launched for the first time, but then exploded

The giant rocket Starship from SpaceX has successfully launched for the first time, although apparently not all engines have ignited. Just four years after company boss Elon Musk made its development public, the largest rocket ever built took off from Texas on Thursday afternoon. But before it was separated from the booster, it then exploded at an altitude of about 37 km. Actually, it should reach space and almost fly around the earth. Even if that didn’t work, SpaceX speaks of a huge success. The fact that the rocket lifted off the launch pad safely can be seen as a breakthrough for SpaceX. It could even herald the beginning of a new era in space history — though that may not happen as quickly as SpaceX boss Elon Musk often suggests.

With the Starship, much larger payloads will soon be sent into space than was previously possible and at significantly lower costs. Even if the colonization of Mars advocated by Elon Musk does not become a reality any time soon, the spacecraft could not only enable the deployment of much larger scientific instruments in space, but also lay the foundation for the industrialization of space. Musk announced a year ago that one Starship would soon take off per day, meaning that 100,000 tons of payload could be transported per year. The goal is even tenfold. There is still a long way to go until then – among other things, many more spaceships are needed. But a crucial step has now been taken.

Completely assembled, the Starship is about 120 m high. The current moon rocket SLS (Space Launch System) from NASA is only around 100 m high, the Saturn V of the Apollo program came to 110 m. Elon Musk presented the first prototype of the Starship in September 2019. After two hops of the prototype SN5 and SN6 at an altitude of about 150 meters, the first real test flight took place in December 2020. SN8 flew less than seven minutes at the time. But then it shattered on landing. In February 2021, the prototype SN9 crashed on landing. SN10 was tilted after landing in early March 2021, but then exploded spectacularly. At the end of March 2021, the next explosion followed at SN11, which was followed by improvements to the design. In May 2021, the prototype SN15 actually managed a “nominal landing”.

Elon Musk announced the first orbital flight of a Starship for the second half of 2021. When that passed, dates for January and July 2022 followed, and most recently March was mentioned. Before the launch attempt, SpaceX activated 31 – of a total of 33 – rocket engines for the first time ever. Even if two hadn’t ignited, Musk said at the time, that was “enough for orbit”. In addition, his space company has built the highest launch and receiving tower for a rocket. The 146 meter high structure is supposed to grip Starship spaceships that land in the future. So they should be able to be made ready for use again quickly. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued approval for the current launch attempt just a few days ago after extensive testing. The license is valid for five years.


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