SpaceX’s Starship rocket fails on second test flight

SpaceX’s Starship will launch a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas on Saturday, November 18. (Eric Kay/AP)

SpaceX did not complete the entire mission, and both the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy Booster exploded in the ocean.

But SpaceX had some big highlights.

During its first flight attempt in April, the rocket made it even higher in its flight profile, when the starship began to fall head-over-tail-over four minutes after liftoff. The starship never separated from the super-heavy booster during that test.

This time, however, SpaceX hit that milestone: About two and a half minutes into flight, the starship turned on its engines and successfully broke away using a brand new method called “hot staging.”

It marked a critical moment for SpaceX, as the hot stand was expected to be “the most dangerous part of the flight,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in October.

SpaceX had already said it would consider the mission a success if the Starship passed that point. It did.

But, it didn’t quite go as planned. The superheavy booster began falling out of control shortly after separation, and within minutes it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX hoped to re-ignite the Super Heavy’s engines and guide it to a controlled landing.

Losing a booster isn’t a huge setback. Initially, the starship moved well after turning away from the super-heavies.

A plume forms as SpaceX's Starship separates from its booster during a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on Saturday, November 18.
A plume forms as SpaceX’s Starship separates from its booster during a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on Saturday, November 18. (Eric Kay/AP)

About 8 minutes after liftoff, as the starship was nearing the end of its engine burn, mission control could hear echoes throughout — putting it on a course toward Earth orbit.

But just 9 minutes after launch, SpaceX clarified that the starship had lost video signal.

About 11 and a half minutes after takeoff, the company confirmed the loss of data. It indicates that the starship did not fly as planned.

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John Insbrucker, the engineer hosting SpaceX’s livestream, later confirmed that SpaceX was forced to destroy the starship so it wouldn’t drift.

The company already insists that, in its view, the experiment was a success.

“We’ve got a lot of data, all of which will help us improve our next flight,” said Kate Tice, an engineering manager for quality systems at SpaceX, during the livestream.

In a tweet, the company said the same thing it did after the April short-term test flight:

The company is known for embracing failures and fiery accidents in the early stages of rocket development. It’s built into the company’s engineering philosophy, which welcomes initial risks during test flights in the name of learning and refining the vehicle’s design more quickly than relying on ground tests.

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