Starship, SpaceX’ proposed heavy-lift rocket ship, lifted off from its specially built launch pad – and detonated three minutes later.
Starship test – a qualified success
The 5000-ton prototype suffered a five-minute delay at T minus 40 seconds – the “ventdown sequence” point. Apparently the ground crew resolved this issue, which they had not rehearsed two days ago. The countdown continued through engine ignition, with 33 Raptor II engines igniting. Five of these engines flamed out immediately, and the giant rocket actually moved aside – laterally – to protect the tower. Later reports from the Nasa Spaceflight YouTube channel confirmed that all five flame-outs happened on the tower side.
The other 28 engines kept burning, and Starship cleared the tower easily and headed out to see. In less than three minutes, the ship passed Max Q, the instant of maximum aerodynamic pressure, which was also when the prototype broke the sound barrier.
But then the ship began to yaw and pitch uncontrollably. The time for Main Engine Cutoff and stage separation came and went, but the stages could not separate. At that point the Automatic Flight Termination, or self-destruct, system activated. The great ship detonated, and rained down debris into the Gulf of Mexico.
Damage to the custom launch pad was minimal, consisting chiefly of layers of concrete having burned away. Of far greater importance, though Starship was lost, it caused no collateral damage except perhaps to a van belonging to a Nasa Spaceflight channel film crew – and no casualties.
Elon Musk offered his congratulations. He had earlier said he would count any result a success if the ship left the launch pad intact.
SpaceX gives details
Liftoff happened at 8:33 a.m. CDT, five minutes behind schedule. SpaceX dropped a thread giving as much detail as was available:
Reaction was still positive, consisting mainly of comments on the excitement of the three-minute test. One user put matters into perspective:
Another user embedded this snapshot of the detonation:
Most observers expect a better result next time. The three major mysteries are:
- Why those five engines flamed out,
- What caused Starship to tumble, and
- Why the two stages did not separate.
About the image
This artist’s concept of a Starship at stage separation is by SpaceX, who have released it to the public domain.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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