Home » SpaceX Starship Is The Most Powerful Rocket On Earth. Watch Its First Launch-Test End With An Explosion

SpaceX Starship Is The Most Powerful Rocket On Earth. Watch Its First Launch-Test End With An Explosion

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After a scrubbed launch attempt this past Tuesday, April 17, SpaceX today launched the largest, most powerful rocket in the world, Starship. The launch stack consisted of a Super Heavy booster first stage, known as Booster 7, and atop that the second stage/orbital vehicle, Starship SN24 prototype. The launch was a smashing success for about four minutes and to an altitude of about 127,000 feet before it became much less of a success as Starship failed to separate from the booster and then exploded. Oops.

Here’s the full video of the launch, and it’s notable to see just how strangely upbeat everyone involved seems to be even after the spacecraft “experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly,” as SpaceX put it, soothing the pain with the fun of an overcomplicated euphamism:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

They made a note that “everything after clearing the tower was icing on the cake,” and when the rocket started to spin uncontrollably and then exploded, everyone erupted in cheers, which is great that they’re so upbeat about everything and presumably accomplished their key goals, but it still feels a little odd to be that celebratory, but, you know, whatever makes them happy.

Here’s a clip of the explosion itself:

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The Super Heavy booster is interesting in that instead of using a few large rocket engines, like a Saturn V moon rocket, it uses 33 Raptor engines firing all at once to generate 16 million pounds of thrust. It appears that six of these engines were not running, according to both video screengrabs:

…and telemetry from the rocket, which seemed to show 5 engines out:

Engines

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It seems that even with five or six engines out, everything was still within parameters, and I don’t expect that this was related to the eventual explosion. Synchronizing and getting many engines to work together is not a trivial achievement on its own; the failure to solve this is largely what doomed the Soviet moon rocket, the N1 in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

N1andsuperheavy

The rocket engines seemed to be working together, but clearly something else was up. The separation of Starship from the Super Heavy booster didn’t happen properly just before everything exploded, so perhaps that’s a clue as to what went wrong. I’m pretty certain there are many many smart people at SpaceX figuring all of this out as we speak.

While it’s easy, perhaps even fun, to roll our eyes and indulge in a bit of schadenfreude when reading tweets from Elon superfans like this one:

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… I’m not sure that’s really all that useful. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Elon Musk, but I’m a very big proponent of space exploration, so I’d have liked to have seen this thing make it to orbit. I’m sure that’s coming, and none of this is easy, so this kind of thing is to be expected. That’s pretty much exactly what NASA chief Bill Nelson had to say about it, too:

Rockets explode sometimes. Happily, this one had no humans (that I’m aware of) on board, and hopefully the debris from the explosion has only damaged various cameras around the launchpad, though I have heard scattered reports about innocent car windows being shattered. In fact, thanks to a commenter, here’s a link to a poor Mopar minvan taking damage from debris:

There’s the real victim, here.

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I’m sure all sorts of data is being gathered and studied so that the next launch may go a bit better. One important bit of data I think has been gathered, at least, and that’s confirmation of Elon’s rather blank dammit-everything-just-went-to-shit-but-I’m-in-public facial expression, as we can see here in two separate provocation incidents, the one on the right from today, and the left one from an earlier event:

Elonface

So, that’s useful information to have.

Elon did seem upbeat about everything overall, though, tweeting:

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Good luck next launch, SpaceX.

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Data
Data
1 year ago

The Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator packs a powerful punch.

Rmkilc
Rmkilc
1 year ago

If we are supposed to believe the 60s really happened, this is rather disappointing. I would expect a lot more with how far technology, computers, material sciences, etc. have come along.

Data
Data
1 year ago
Reply to  Rmkilc

There is a big difference when trying to beat the Russians for space supremacy vs doing it for the likes on the social mediaz.

1789667
1789667
1 year ago
Reply to  Data

Poorest argument

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
1 year ago
Reply to  Rmkilc

The 60s did happen, I was there. This isn’t a government or an alliance of governments, putting a project out there and spending like crazy to make it happen. It’s a private company, like many others right now, looking to profit from space and for all practical purposes, spending their own money to try and make it happen. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs…

Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago
Reply to  Rmkilc

There’s a really solid,simple answer to that but if you think the moon program was faked it will go right over your head

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
1 year ago

Went longer than i expected it to. My over/under was 1 min.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
1 year ago
Reply to  BigThingsComin

thats what she said?

Jblues
Jblues
1 year ago

Jason Jason Jason…

You’ve let your hatred for Musk overcome your need for professionalism again.

The goal of this launch was simply to clear the launchpad, and that was successful. Anybody who read about this launch before it actually happened knew this.

Your desire for Musk to fail so you can snicker up your sleeve is unseemly.

Love ya, man, but you have to be better. Keep the politics and personal vendettas out of your writing.

Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
1 year ago
Reply to  Jblues

 Keep the politics and personal vendettas out of your writing.

Personal vendettas?
What an odd thing to say

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago
Reply to  Jblues

Yeah, this was a silly take, probably hammed up for engagement… a trap that I’m falling right into. Can’t we just celebrate how cool it was that the Biggest Rocket Ever Built just left the pad for the first time?

Jb996
Jb996
1 year ago
Reply to  Jblues

What are you talking about? Jason was overall very positive.

The absolutely most negative thing I could find in the article:
“… is great that they’re so upbeat about everything and presumably accomplished their key goals, but it still feels a little odd to be that celebratory, but, you know, whatever makes them happy.”
But it’s mostly concluded with:
“I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Elon Musk, but I’m a very big proponent of space exploration, so I’d have liked to have seen this thing make it to orbit. I’m sure that’s coming, and none of this is easy, so this kind of thing is to be expected.” … “I’m sure all sorts of data is being gathered and studied so that the next launch may go a bit better.”

What exactly in this article was personal hatred, or political? Because I sure didn’t see it.

I think you’re letting an over-sensitivity to protect poor Elon show through. There is no bullet here to throw yourself in front of.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago
Reply to  Jb996

I mean… if it ilicited this type of response then I guess Jason got what he wanted?

I agree that it’s a bit misleading to make it seem like the launch was a failure by the screenshot of Elon and the word “crap” next to it. There are plenty of things to disagree with Elon about….but this ain’t one of them…the launch was a success and achieved what they wanted. They’ve blown up enough rockets to know this.

Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
1 year ago

I mean… if it elicited this type of response then I guess Jason got what he wanted?

Again, what an odd thing to say
The implication that Jason’s copy is “picking sides” is preposterous
https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/efdd579266218d3766ff0b8b12207d55?s=56&d=mm&r=g

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago

I think Jason is a fantastic writer, and I enjoy his work a lot. I especially like the SUPER obscure stuff he writes about.

With that being said, this article has the image of the before/after launch and Elon in the middle saying “crap” That’s classic clickbait, therefore the article is clickbait (like most Elon pieces everywhere), which elicits opposing views.

So, yeah, I do think he got what he wanted or at least what he expected.

Happy 4/20, go smoke a bone and chill out man.

Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
Roustabout Stanton Carlisle
1 year ago

So, yeah, I do think he got what he wanted or at least what he expected.

Huh…interesting
And you paid to say this ?
Again, interesting

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago

What an odd, preposterous, and interesting thing for you to say…

1789667
1789667
1 year ago
Reply to  Jblues

Hey buddy, maybe you can stop reading these articles if they affect you so much, they are very interesting to me.

Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy
1 year ago

Based on the discussion in the stream during pre-launch, there was no intention to ever reach orbit. They had hoped to reach a sub-orbital altitude and then let Starship crash into the ocean, but the main goal was to test launch capability of Booster 7 with Starship attached. That part was successful, thus all the cheering. Apparently they weren’t that optimistic to begin with and didn’t have their hopes pinned on anything – Booster 9 is already nearing readiness and has multiple improvements over what they just tested.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Murphy

Yes and no. After separation (which was when everything went wrong), the booster was to perform a boost-back burn and perform a soft landing in the Gulf (after which it would be sunk). The Starship was to perform most of an orbit, crashing in the ocean north of Hawaii 90 minutes later. They were doing a deliberately unstable orbit because, if the ship was put into a stable one, but then suffered a communications or guidance failure, it’s a BIG chunk of debris to have orbiting and re-entering without guidance.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean O'Brien

everything beyond clearing the tower was a stretch goal. yes, they built it hoping it would achieve all those things, but they also knew just clearing the tower was a huge accomplishment.

they have also (as pointed out above) already moved the design forward several iterations on much of the design for the next test booster.

they don’t _really_ expect to succeed until the 4th or 5th try. that is the whole point of go fast, expect failures, learn, iterate, improve.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
1 year ago

I think people are so used to NASA and the government way of doing things, that they don’t get why the staff was celebrating. Space X, Tesla, and other Musk endeavors are operating as technology companies, not government or traditional manufacturing companies. They are operating on a concept called “Fail Fast”. Basically, failure is not considered a problem. You just want find out what does not work quickly so you can move on to the next hypothesis.

Here is a good article if you want more details – https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/fail-fast

1913Jalopy
1913Jalopy
1 year ago

That’s a good idea when you’re designing small consumer products or developing apps. It’s a really expensive way of doing business when you’re developing rockets.

Chris D
Chris D
1 year ago

They were celebrating the successful detonation of the world’s largest and most expensive ever single firework.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris D

I think sure the Soviet N1 still has them beat there. The second one exploded just as it was lifting off, and still full of fuel. I’m pretty sure it made a bigger boom.

Loudog
Loudog
1 year ago

The initial missile programs failed a lot too, folks just didn’t see it. Our home movies used to be interesting failures of Atlas launches. There were a lot of them. While I was hoping to see a full stack success, it was fun that SpaceX duplicated a movie I saw in my youth in a far safer manner.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

Unintended high velocity impact with the ground. Seriously, this is important stuff and I wish them well.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
1 year ago

This was a good day for those people that have been tied to the development of starship and spacex in general! There is tons to be learned from any actual test as opposed to theoretical modeling.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 year ago

Reading the tweets this morning, I had the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme playing at max volume in my head.

Billywa
Billywa
1 year ago

Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly = It blowed up real good!

Stacks
Stacks
1 year ago

Going to space is hard.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 year ago
Reply to  Stacks

Obviously the fuses weren’t braided tight enough when they lit it.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago

Inasmuch as I can technically call myself a NASA-funded rocket scientist, although in just about the least impressive sense in which this label can be employed, I’ll say in defense of SpaceX that rocketry ain’t easy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mike Harrell
Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
1 year ago

Gotta wonder if having a full time CEO that actually knows something about rockets instead of 69-420 memes would help…

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 year ago

I mean he 420 blazed it….

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

I’m convinced that Monday’s scrub was a red herring so that Musk could launch his baby on 4/20.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago

A good leader doesn’t have to be an expert in the field. He just has to surround himself with those that are and trust them to do their thing. Musk has never been an expert in anything he’s ever done, be it rockets, cars, payment apps, or social networks. As for the other part of that… well… sometimes? Maybe?

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

Indeed it might. But Gwynne Shotwell is doing an amazing job running SpaceX as President and COO.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
1 year ago

they do, gwynn shotwell. musk provides vision and money, she gets shit done.

Newcarpetsmell
Newcarpetsmell
1 year ago

I’m curious about the design choice of 33 engines over a handful of larger. Seems like unnecessary complexity.

Last edited 1 year ago by Newcarpetsmell
Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

I’d assume that there’s an economic incentive, as the raptor engines are able to be built using their existing production lines. Beyond that, the materials science is likely simpler and cheaper, as smaller rockets don’t have to deal with nearly the same issues (stress, heat soak, etc.) that large ones do.

Yes, it’s added complexity, but sometimes the simplest route is not the most viable route.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

Lose 1 engine and you’ve still got 32 more. You’ve only lost 3% of your available thrust. With let’s say 6 engines, you would have lost 17%. According to the telemetry data for this launch, there were 5 engines that didn’t fire and 1 that lit at take-off and seemed to shut off and relight at one point.

Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

The cluster of engines in the middle are all gimbaled, allowing for some vectoring of the thrust and maneuverability that wouldn’t be possible on a rocket with just a couple of big engines. This is a big part of what will allow the 1st stage to land safely once they get to that point.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

Aside from the manufacturing and logistics benefits (You can haul 2 raptors on a small truck from where they’re built in CA to the test stand in mid Texas, to Boca Chica at the far southern tip.), more smaller engines are beneficial for reusable ships that do propulsive landing. Rocket engines can only throttle to ranges between about 30 and 50% of their maximum power and, because most of the weight of the ship is fuel, you need smaller engines to land in a controlled manner. Falcon 9, for instance has 9 Merlin engines on the booster and only uses one to land, but even that is too much thrust for it to actually hover when the tank is nearly empty (hence the ‘hover slam/suicide burn’ where the booster comes in, reaching zero velocity at zero altitude.)

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

I’m curious about it too.

33 engines means 33 chances for parts to fail.

Large planes used to be four or more engines (8 on the B-52, 10 on the B-36), but now all large planes are twin engine since they determined that more engines is just more chances for parts to fail.

Jason Mason
Jason Mason
1 year ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

For commercial aircraft the move to twin-engines vs. 4 is due to their efficiencies and overall reliability of the engines, esp those certified as ETOPS. That is the reason the last iteration of the 747 did not sell well and led to the end of the model’s production run. The production of the A380 also ended, though that was the result of issues in addition to the aircraft’s general inefficiency.

Loudog
Loudog
1 year ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

It took a *lot* of flight hours to gather the data and do the research that lead to super reliable jet engines. Decades of it. We’re still in the “it flamed out!” stage of development on Methalox engine design, although the prior failures and art developed to handle jets and rockets gives us a huge leg up now. Hell, theory of automatic control came out of the missile programs of the 60’s.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

big engines are f’ing hard to make work right. Saturn 5’s engines are still considered to have worked largely by luck (as in yes there was lots of good work done, but they got lucky that the design produced stable combustion and attempts to replicate that thrust level using newer technology designs have repeatedly failed.)

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

Getting 33 engines to work together is difficult, however, making very big engines is also difficult. Exactly where you draw the line is, well, rocket science.
Thirty-three engines is definitely at the high end of the scale, five seems to be a popular number (Saturn V, Shuttle, Soyuz).

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

The first Death Star had a very successful test before its unexpected failure to remain intact. The second one was well on it’s way to success before the haters got involved.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

It was going great until the damn rebel pedos got involved!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Thanks a lot Galen Erso.

Steve P
Steve P
1 year ago

Somebody’s van had a bad day. https://twitter.com/i/status/1649058400410509313

C N
C N
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve P

Reminds me of that time when they thought blowing up a whale was a good idea

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve P

It probably belonged to the guys from NASA Spaceflight. It was deliberately left inside the exclusion zone to hold and power various cameras.

RussianCircusBear
RussianCircusBear
1 year ago

Is it possible they self-destructed it after it went into that deathspin? Better to have it explode in the atmosphere than tumble back down full of unspent fuel, hence the applause.

Last edited 1 year ago by RussianCircusBear
SLM
SLM
1 year ago

This, and the fact that there is rules about cheering and applause in command rooms. It was a test launch, it is possible that in those cases, the rule is “everybody applause because whatever the ending, we’re learning a lot”.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago

Not just possible, certain. Unmanned rockets have what’s called an ‘FTS’ or ‘Flight Termination System’. In most cases, it’s a line of det cord along the rocket body which is set off if the rocket is malfunctioning and risks breaching its exclusion zone. It’s better to have the fuel explode high in the air and more, smaller, less aerodynamic chunks come down than one big one moving fast. They pretty clearly triggered the FTS here. What’s up in the air is whether they deliberately let it go for a few seconds after all hope was gone in order to collect as much data as possible.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago

Hahahahahahaha Elon’s BIG STRONG MAN PEE PEE ROCKET burst prematurely for the entire world to see

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
1 year ago

I despise Elon Musk but SpaceX is doing exciting, important things (partially because Musk is not very involved). I was bummed to see this go sideways.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
1 year ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

There’s a lot I don’t like about Musk, but interviews with him and SpaceX employees and veterans makes it pretty clear that, from the beginning until now, he has been heavily involved in both the strategic and technical direction of the company. Check out Eric Berger’s Liftoff for a good history of SpaceX.

MiniDave
MiniDave
1 year ago

Disappointing for sure…..I also was confused by the cheering of the troops when it blew up……erm, suffered a rapid disassembly.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
1 year ago

Torch glad you pointed out the N1 rocket as they look similar in nature. I’m laughing here cause I can’t stand Elon. but I do respect the heck out of spacex in general, they have really done some great stuff.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 year ago

When it started spinning wildly out of control, you just knew the rocket had separation anxiety

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 year ago

Apparently something IS gonna stop them now.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Gosh darn it, thanks for that earbug Mark.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Something just ate Elon’s launch.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
1 year ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

you made my day lol

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago

Ok. Perhaps NASA should rethink putting humans on these pieces of shit for another moon mission. Of course if Elon the turd put his kids on a few launches his child support payments would be reduced?

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Is that his motivation to breed so much? Creating rocket fodder? This makes more sense than any other reason, I guess.

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I’m all for criticizing Elon, but this was a test launch of a rocket that apparently wasn’t even intended to make it to orbit. Comparing it to whatever they’ll eventually use for the moon mission is disingenuous at best.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

Fun to watch – happy 420!

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 year ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Space X: Burnin’ the biggest one possible

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

This is why you should clean out any seeds before you roll it up?

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Oh god not the brick weed….here in Autopia we’re only chiefing on that Bhutanese shadow garden grown dark evil pack

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Seeds?

Time to bust out the ole jewel case.

Jewel case?

For CDs.

CDs?

David Smith
David Smith
1 year ago

Any double LP was better. My personal preferences were the White Album or Blonde on Blonde.

David Smith
David Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Obviously not Acapulco Gold.

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