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SpaceX’s Ambitious Starship Program Suffers Another Setback

Joe Skipper / reuters

The second test flight of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft, intended for future human missions to the moon and Mars, concluded in an explosion on Saturday morning shortly after liftoff from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas spaceport. Launched atop the Super Heavy rocket, the world’s largest rocket, Starship took off just after 8 AM ET.

Following the stage separation, where the Super Heavy booster detached from Starship, the rocket’s first stage experienced an explosion. Despite this, Starship continued its trajectory for several additional minutes, exceeding the flight time of its predecessor. Around the 8-minute mark in the live stream, a faint explosion was visible, and the hosts subsequently confirmed the loss of contact with the spacecraft.

In contrast to its initial test, which concluded approximately 24 miles above Earth’s surface, Starship successfully reached space in this iteration. At the moment of the explosion, the livestream’s tracker indicated an altitude of about 92 miles.

Today’s flight marked SpaceX’s inaugural utilization of a novel separation method termed “hot staging,” wherein Starship’s engines were ignited before detaching from the still-operating first stage. Remarkably, the craft executed these maneuvers before the Super Heavy experienced an explosion, and Starship had already distanced itself. SpaceX must now refine the booster design to enhance its resilience for future attempts at hot staging.

Despite the outcome mirroring the previous test that concluded in an explosion, SpaceX is characterizing the endeavor as a success. Kate Tice, a host of the livestream and a quality engineering manager at SpaceX, described it as “an incredibly successful day,” acknowledging the unexpected disassembly of both the Super Heavy booster and the ship. She emphasized the wealth of data obtained, emphasizing its role in refining and enhancing preparations for the subsequent flight.

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