Elon Musk’s Starship took off this afternoon in the second attempt by the Space X company. However, the joy barely lasted four minutes. Takeoff took place in Texas at 3:33 p.m. to cheers from the team, but the applause was marred when cameras captured a fireball. The rocket, called Super Heavy, the most powerful in history, had exploded just when Starship, which one day will take humans to the Moon and Mars, had to separate from the rest of the device.
The maximum pressure point had already been successfully passed, when the beast, measuring 120 meters and with 33 engines in total, experienced what Musk’s team has ironically called an “unexpected disassembly.” In this case, the ship had to separate from the first stage (the rocket) by rotating on itself, like someone unscrewing a plug. That is where the failure occurred: the jaws could not be opened. At the same time, upon deviating from the planned trajectory, the automatic flight termination system was activated, so the deflagration was not accidental, although it was unforeseen. Ahead of him was a long journey across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans to end up in the waters of Hawaii. He had to complete the route in 90 minutes, but in less than five his adventure was over.
Despite everything, those responsible avoided talking about failure, above all, to avoid the worst scenario contemplated: that the explosion would take place on the launch pad. Likewise, they assured that “with a test like this, success comes from what we learn. “It will help us improve Starship reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary.” Minutes after the explosion, Musk himself communicated with the team via Twitter to congratulate them on their “exciting” work and promised them a new test “in a few months.” Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, also applauded the work: “Every great achievement throughout history has required a certain level of calculated risk. “After great risk comes great reward.”
What happened this Thursday in the town of Brownsville was a possibility that all those involved in the mission were counting on. In fact, Musk already hinted last Sunday that this could happen. Of the twenty Starship prototypes created, half had ended up exploding or catching fire. What’s more, only five had managed to rise to 10 kilometers in height, and only once, in the last test, was the landing achieved successfully. Hence also the company’s mantra is ‘Fail fast, but learn faster’.
This was the second launch attempt of the ship. The first took place on Monday and stopped with just 40 seconds left in the countdown. A problem with a pressurization valve, which froze, forced the team to apply the brakes. Also on this occasion it was about to be canceled half a minute from the end, when the engineers asked for a pause to make some checks with the pressurization of the propellant and the second stage of the rocket. Curiously, one minute after takeoff, the cameras recorded that only 27 of the 33 engines were on.
The test will not be a failure for Space X, but it does represent a considerable loss of millions of euros for the company. Although it has not offered exact figures on how much the rocket cost, in 2019, close sources explained to CNN that the development of Starship involved an investment of 2.7 billion euros.
Musk’s project to manufacture one of these features dates back to 2005, when he sought to be able to put 100 tons of cargo into orbit. Starship’s capacity is greater, reaching 150, and its size exceeds both the Space Launch System and the Saturn V, both from NASA, and the Soviet N1.
Delay of man’s return to the Moon?
The new space race to the Moon will also be harmed by what happened in the sky over Texas. The Artemis 3 mission, which seeks to bring man to our satellite 50 years later, in 2025, depends on the development of the Starship. NASA has a million-dollar contract with Space X for this since the vehicle that takes its astronauts there will be a modified version of Musk’s.
Likewise, it is possible that the one-week tourist trip of Japanese millionaire Yusaku Maezawa, scheduled for this year in what will be the first civilian mission to lunar orbit, will be postponed. This is a promise that the Japanese man made to his girlfriend in 2018 and to which he has invited six more people.
As if this were not enough, the owner of Tesla and Twitter has launched this Thursday a veiled threat of a lawsuit against Microsoft for the illegal use of data from the social network to train its artificial intelligence model.
The Starship is a beast developed by Space X, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, owner of Twitter and Tesla. It measures 120 meters high and nine meters in diameter. And it is key for future missions to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
The device not only breaks the mold due to its size or power, but also because the two parts that make it up, the propellant and the spacecraft itself, are reusable. This is intended to reduce costs. Musk has even stated that the ship could be launched every six or eight hours and the propulsion system every hour.
Super Heavy is the name with which the latter has been baptized. 69 meters high, it is made up of 33 engines fueled by methane and will break off once outside the Earth to fall into the Gulf of Mexico. The first firing tests took place on August 9 of last year. So only one of them came into operation. In November, 14 were lit and just over two months ago, on February 9, 31 of the 33 were lit. Its power is five times greater than that of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful to date, which was launched by the Musk himself in 2018.
The ship itself is called Starship – by extension, it gives its name to the entire rocket. Measuring 50 meters high and nine meters in diameter, it would carry the crew and the payload, although this time it will be empty. After nine attempts that ended with the device destroyed, the first flight test that ended successfully was in May 2021. It then rose ten kilometers and managed to land intact. When in orbit, it will be powered by six engines prepared to operate in a vacuum.