SpaceX’s Starship rocket explodes after launch

The Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built and is designed to send astronauts to the moon, Mars or beyond.

SpaceX’s massive Starship has launched, but failed to make orbit.

The stainless steel space vessel – composed of a spacecraft sitting atop the so-called Super Heavy booster rocket – took off from the launch site at Boca Chica, Texas in the US on Thursday morning.

At least five of its 33 Raptor engines did not appear to fire upon lift-off, said Stephen Clark, with The rocket cleared the launch tower and headed into the sky.

However, the spacecraft failed to separate from the Super Heavy booster, with the entire vessel spinning before falling apart – in what is technically called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”.

The behemoth launching system was 120 metres (394 feet) tall, higher than New York City’s Statue of Liberty. Its successful takeoff represents a step forward in United States space travel, with the company foreseeing the vessel as a key link in a manned mission one day reaching Mars.

The lift-off sets a record for the largest rocket ever to be launched.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had said in March that the chances the rocket would reach orbit were about 50 percent.

On Thursday, he tweeted: “Congrats [SpaceX] team on an exciting launch of Starship!”

“Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months.”

There was a fire at the launch site following the lift-off.

As designed, the Starship rocket is nearly two times more powerful than NASA’s own Space Launch System (SLS), which made its debut uncrewed flight to orbit in November.

SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft destructs after its launch from the company’s launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas, the United States [SpaceX/Reuters]

The US space agency NASA has also picked the Starship spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the moon in late 2025 – a mission known as Artemis III – for the first time since the Apollo programme ended in 1972.

SpaceX had previously scrubbed a launch planned for Monday, citing a pressurization issue in the lower-stage Super Heavy booster. Musk tweeted that he “learned a lot” from the abandoned test.

Prototypes of the Starship cruise vessel had made five subspace flights up to 10 km (6 miles) above Earth in recent years. The Super Heavy booster had never left the ground, although SpaceX did conduct a test-firing of the booster, igniting 31 of its 33 Raptor engines for roughly 10 seconds with the rocket bolted in place vertically atop a platform in February.

SpaceX’s Starship is seen at the Boca Chica launchpad [Joe Skipper/Reuters]

“It’s a very risky flight,” Musk said in a Twitter livestream message on Sunday. “It’s the first launch of a very complicated, gigantic rocket.”

In a successful test, all 33 Raptor engines would ignite simultaneously to loft the Starship on a flight that nearly completes a full orbit of the Earth before it re-enters the atmosphere and free-falls into the Pacific at supersonic speed about 60 miles (97 km) off the coast of the northern Hawaiian islands.

After separating from the Starship, the Super Heavy booster is meant to execute the beginnings of a controlled return flight before plunging into the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies