SpaceX Starship: Second launch of rocket loses contact after reaching space

SpaceX on November 18, 2023, carried out the second test launch of Starship, the largest rocket ever built that Elon Musk hopes will one day colonize Mars (Image:  DIEGO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)SpaceX on November 18, 2023, carried out the second test launch of Starship, the largest rocket ever built that Elon Musk hopes will one day colonize Mars (Image:  DIEGO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)
SpaceX on November 18, 2023, carried out the second test launch of Starship, the largest rocket ever built that Elon Musk hopes will one day colonize Mars (Image: DIEGO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) | DIEGO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images
SpaceX's Starship previously came under scrutiny after it left debris over Texas

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft only lasted 10 minutes in space, after the two-stage rocket ship blasted off from the Elon Musk-owned company’s Starbase launch site near Boca Chica in Texas, east of Brownsville, on a planned 90-minute uncrewed flight into space.

Although the two stages of the spacecraft successfully separated about two and a half minutes into the flight, SpaceX announced it could not find a signal from the second stage, and declared it as lost as it was presumed the rocket’s self-destruction mechanism was set off after it lost the signal.

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This was Starship's second test after its first attempt to reach space ended in an explosion four minutes into the flight in April, where the spacecraft’s first stage, nicknamed “Super Heavy” for its 33 engines, had failed, causing both stages to explode. If the second launch was successful, the rocket would have landed in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. 

“What we do believe right now is that the automated flight termination system on second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn as we were headed downrange over the Gulf of Mexico,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said in a company broadcast.

This time, the engine succeeded in lift-off, and Starship separated from Super heavy but the rocket’s automatic termination system activated, causing an explosion. On X, the social media platform also owned by Musk and formerly known as Twitter, SpaceX confirmed that it experienced an explosion, something the company refers to as “a rapid unscheduled disassembly”.

“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary,” the company said.

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The Federal Aviation Administration grounded the rocket pending a safety and environmental review but cleared the launch this week. The company had come under fire after its first launch for the amount of debris it caused over Texas after its first explosion.

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