Starship explodes 4 minutes into flight: Planned stage separation failed to occur


SpaceX is counting this morning’s first ever launch of Starship-Super Heavy from Boca Chica/Starbase as a success, even though the flight came to an “exciting end” in the words of a SpaceX commentator 3 minutes and 59 seconds after launch.

After a brief pause in the countdown, the 33 engines of the Super Heavy booster rocket ignited shortly after 8:30 a.m., creating a massive plume of dust and fire as the nearly 400-foot tall spacecraft successfully cleared the launch tower.

The vehicle attained a speed of more than 1,340 mph and an altitude of more than 23 miles, and the craft executed the necessary flip for stage separation, which failed to occur.

Ground cameras showed the still-stacked vehicle rotating oddly at 3 minutes into the flight, separation still hadn’t occurred at 3:30 into the flight.

“We saw the start of the flip, but obviously, we’re seeing from the ground cameras the entire Starship stack continuing to rotate,” reported SpaceX principal integration engineer. “We should have had separation by now. Obviously this does not appear a nominal situation.”

At 3:59 into the flight, Starship-Super Heavy exploded over the Gulf, possibly the result of the onboard flight termination system doing its job.

Nonetheless, Kate Tice, SpaceX quality systems engineer, characterized the first Starship orbital test as a success.

“Everything after clearing the tower was icing on the cake,” she said.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk had put the chances of reaching orbit with the first test at more than 50 percent.

“Congrats SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship!” he tweeted after the flight. “Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months.”

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