SpaceX loses rocket, spacecraft over Gulf of Mexico in 2nd test flight

0 34

(CNN) — SpaceX’s gargantuan deep-space rocket system, Starship, safely lifted off Saturday morning but ended prematurely with an explosion and a loss of signal.

The Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft successfully separated after liftoff, as the Starship lit up its engines and pushed away. That process ended up destroying the Super Heavy booster, which erupted into a ball of flames over the Gulf of Mexico. But the Starship spacecraft was able to briefly continue its journey.

The Starship system made it much further into flight than the first attempt in April. The rocket and spacecraft lifted off the launchpad at 8 a.m. ET, with the Super Heavy booster igniting all 33 of its engines.

The Starship upper stage began its trip Saturday morning strapped to the top of the Super Heavy first stage, a 232-foot-tall (70.7-meter-tall) rocket packed with 33 massive engines. About two and a half minutes after roaring to life and vaulting off the launchpad, the Super Heavy booster expended most of its fuel, and the Starship spacecraft fired its own engines and broke away.

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) 

The Starship spacecraft used its own six engines to continue propelling itself to faster speeds. SpaceX aimed to send the spacecraft to near orbital velocities, typically around 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour).

The SpaceX team awaited acquisition of signal from the spacecraft, but shared during the livestream that the “second stage was lost.”

“The automated flight termination system on second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn as we were headed down range out over the Gulf of Mexico,” aerospace engineer John Insprucker said.

The flight termination system is essentially a self-destruct feature that SpaceX engaged to prevent the Starship from traveling off course.

NASA is investing up to $4 billion in the rocket system with the goal of using the Starship capsule to ferry astronauts to the lunar surface for its Artemis III mission, currently slated to take off as soon as 2025.

The endeavor is aiming to return humans to the moon for the first time in five decades, and the successful completion of this test flight would bring the US space agency and SpaceX one step closer to that goal.

Starship goals

The failure could spell significant delays for Starship’s development and the key missions lined up on its manifest, most notably NASA’s Artemis III mission, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in five decades. The US space agency tapped Starship to serve as the lunar lander for that mission, which is currently slated for late 2025.

The root cause of the Starship rocket’s failure on Saturday was not immediately clear.

But the booster explosion occurred after a phase called “hot staging” that SpaceX tried for the first time Saturday.

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
SpaceX’s mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) 

The method was used to separate the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket after liftoff, when Super Heavy has burned through most of its fuel and is ready to break away.

Almost all rockets go through a process during launch called “stage separation,” in which the bottommost rocket booster diverges from the rest of the rocket or spacecraft.

When SpaceX launches its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, for example, the first-stage booster — or the bottommost portion of the rocket — breaks away from the upper part of the rocket less than three minutes into flight. The Falcon 9 does so using pneumatic pushers that are housed within the rocket’s interstage, or black band around the center.

Instead, the Starship spacecraft fired up its own six engines to push itself away from the Super Heavy booster — and it’s essentially separation by blunt force trauma.

“We did know that hot staging was going to be incredibly dynamic,” said Kate Tice, SpaceX Quality Systems Engineering senior manager, during the livestream. We knew that there was a chance that the booster would not survive, but we’re going to take that data and figure out how we can make the booster better for the next hot stage.”

If all had gone according to plan, Starship would have continued accelerating toward space. The Starship spacecraft was then slated to complete nearly one full lap of the Earth, aiming to splash down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The destruction of the vehicle shortly after liftoff was reminiscent of the Starship’s first launch attempt in April. During that test flight, several of the Super Heavy’s engines unexpectedly powered off and the rocket began spiraling out of control just minutes after liftoff. SpaceX was forced to trigger the system’s self-destruct feature, blowing up both stages over the Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX took several months to recover from the April mishap. The company was forced to rebuild its launch site, which had been torn to pieces by the sheer force of the rocket powering its engines. The company also implemented upgrades to both the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy booster.

SpaceX typically embraces fiery mishaps in the early stages of rocket development. The company has long maintained that it can learn how to build a better rocket more quickly and cheaply by flying — and occasionally exploding — early prototypes rather than relying solely on ground testing and computer modeling.

After April’s explosive first test flight, SpaceX noted “success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Source link

Denial of responsibility! TheNewsMotion is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.