SpaceX, Elon Musk’s spaceflight company, launched its Starship rocket from the coast of South Texas on Saturday, a mammoth vehicle that could alter the future of space transportation and help NASA return astronauts to the moon.
Saturday’s flight of Starship, a powerful vehicle designed to carry NASA astronauts to the moon, was not a complete success. SpaceX did not achieve the test launch’s ultimate objective — a partial trip around the world ending in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
But the test flight, the vehicle’s second, did show that the company had fixed key issues that arose during the earlier test operation in April. All 33 engines in the vehicle’s lower booster stage fired, and the rocket made it through stage separation — when the booster falls away and the six engines of the upper stage light up to carry the vehicle to space.
Just beautiful, John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer and live launch commentator, said on the SpaceX webcast.
By contrast, the first Starship launch badly damaged the launch site; several engines on the booster failed, fires knocked out the steering of the rocket.
A couple of hours before sunrise on Saturday, liquid oxygen and liquid methane started flowing into the Starship. There was some fog near the ground but the skies above were clear, save for a few wisps of cirrus clouds. The countdown proceeded smoothly, stopping at a planned hold with 40 seconds left on the countdown clock. Then the hold was lifted, the final seconds ticked away and, shortly after 7 a.m. Central time, the 400-foot-tall rocket slowly rose into the sky. A new water deluge system appears to have protected the launchpad, avoiding the cloud of dust and debris that rose up in April.
At 2 minutes, 48 seconds after liftoff, there was a flash as Starship successfully performed what had been expected to be the trickiest part of the flight — “hot staging,” when the six engines of the upper stage ignited before the booster dropped away. Loud cheers resonated from the SpaceX webcast, which was streaming from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
The launch was experienced not just by those watching along the coast, but also those farther afield. Emma Guevara, a resident of Brownsville, the city in South Texas that is west of the SpaceX launch site, said the event had made her house shake.
How quickly SpaceX solves the Starship issues could determine how soon NASA astronauts return to the moon.