SpaceX Starship Explodes Mid-Test Flight


Screenshot from SpaceX livestream

With the anticipated Artemis III mission approaching, SpaceX conducted a test flight of its new rocket, Starship, on April 20 that ended in failure.

The 390-foot rocket blew up mid-flight, 24 miles above the Gulf of Mexico. The rocket was launched off the coast of Boca Chica, TX. The mission was to fly the unmanned rocket 150 miles into the atmosphere and then have it splash down near Hawaii.

The reported cause for the destruction was the onboard “flight termination system” that is activated when the onboard computer senses the rocket tumbling or by manual activation. This system was put in place to prevent any harm to property or people.

Some speculated causes for the triggering of the system are the failure of separation between the first and second stages along with the possible contributor of misfires in some of the engines. The misfires of the engines were previously observed in a “static fire” test on Feb. 9 during which eight engines failed to fire.

Despite the launch appearing to be a failure, those who are part of the team and development disagree. “It may look that way to some people, but it’s not a failure It is a learning experience,” Daniel Dumbacher, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said. The test was seen as a progression in the overall idea of space travel.

The financial toll on the company is relevant; however, SpaceX has a financial cushion that allows the company to experience these setbacks without many consequences. Programs like NASA do not have this since they are government funded and cannot afford this kind of testing mentality. “Government programs are not allowed to operate that way because of that, because of the way we have all the stakeholders being able to watch over and tell you no,” Dumbacher said.

Until further notice, SpaceX has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration while the cause for the failure is being investigated. The FAA commented that an investigation like this could take “a matter of weeks” or “might take serval months.” With this news, the time frame for the Artemis III mission is in question due to SpaceX’s inability to launch or test any further Starships.