SpaceX’s second orbital test flight attempt of its Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy booster has ended prematurely after an apparent anomaly resulted in loss of signal during the mission.
Shortly after a successful liftoff from Texas, SpaceX confirmed ignition of all 33 Raptor engines powering the massive Super Heavy rocket, Starship then separated from the booster as planned.
However, SpaceX’s launch commentator John Insprucker stated that signal was lost from the second stage following separation, saying “We may have lost the second stage.”
Video footage later showed an explosion occurring on the Super Heavy booster after detaching from Starship. The cause of the failure is still unknown. While the Starship continued flying, it was likely terminated by the flight termination system due to deviating off the intended trajectory.
Compared to April’s failed attempt, this latest Starship test flight achieved a higher altitude and maximum velocity before the mishap occurred, vehicles successfully performed the pioneering “hot staging” maneuver to detach mid-air.
Multiple enhancements were incorporated since the last test, including upgraded Raptor engines, reinforced structures, and new thrust vector control systems. But an unknown issue still resulted in another setback.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged the partial success, congratulating the team on X/Twitter while noting there is still clearly work to be done regarding the Super Heavy booster.
This experimental test flight was intended to prove out Starship’s ability to reach Earth orbit. While ending prematurely, the test still provided valuable data to aid future attempts.
Engineers now have the complex task of pouring through telemetry to uncover clues of what went wrong. Identifying and correcting the failure points will bring SpaceX a step closer to finally accomplishing the historic first orbital launch.
With a flight termination system triggered on Starship as well, the test highlights the immense challenges involved in developing a brand new launch system, but SpaceX remains determined to learn from each test and iterate rapidly.