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SpaceX’s Unmanned Starship Exploded Minutes After Its Record-Breaking Launch

CEO Elon Musk has deemed it “an exciting test launch.”

Houston—or Boca Chica, rather—we have lift-off.

SpaceX’s gigantic Starship left the launch pad in Boca Chica, Tex., just after 9:30 a.m. EST on Thursday morning, before exploding in the stratosphere minutes later. Even so, the unmanned test flight has been deemed a success by the company’s engineers. The mega-rocket has made it into the record books, too.

The 394-foot behemoth was lifted upwards by 16.5 million pounds of thrust, making it the biggest, tallest, and most powerful rocket to take flight. The craft successfully cleared the launch tower and survived MaxQ—the moment when the aerodynamic loads on the vehicle are at their greatest—before hitting speeds of up to 1,340 mph, as per the data on SpaceX’s live video stream.

SpaceX Starship
The Starship launched just after 9:30 a.m. on April 20. YouTube/SpaceX

As the Starship was climbing, however, it appeared as though some of the engines on the base of the Super Heavy Booster weren’t firing. To recap, the vessel is made up of a spacecraft (the Starship) and a giant booster (the Super Heavy) that is powered by 33 of SpaceX’s Raptor engines. The BBC pointed out that six engines looked as if they weren’t working properly on today’s flight, although engineers may have made the decision to shut them down.

The Super Heavy Booster also failed to separate from the Starship. At about four minutes in, the rocket started to spin out of control and then blew up. The explosion was likely the result of a self-destruct command issued by SpaceX ground control.

SpaceX Starship
The Starship reached a peak altitude of about 24 miles. YouTube/SpaceX

Starship reached a peak altitude of about 24 miles (39 kilometers) before it began to tumble. As the edge of space is considered to be somewhere between 50 and 62 miles above Earth’s surface, the Starship didn’t technically make it to space.

Regardless, the rocket’s first spin was a historic moment. The team at SpaceX headquarters in California could be seen cheering in the live video, and the commentators acknowledged the monumental feat.
“Obviously, we wanted to make it all the way through, but to get this far honestly is amazing,” SpaceX’s Kate Tice said during the stream. “Everything after clearing the tower was icing on the cake.”

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk also chimed in on Twitter to congratulate the team on “an exciting test launch.”

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

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