Watch: SpaceX's Mars Starship Explodes In Massive Fireball, Musk Fans Cheer

Despite the "rapid unscheduled disassembly," the first flight of SpaceX's Starship craft—designed to travel to Mars—was a valuable test.
Watch: SpaceX's Mars Starship Explodes In Massive Fireball, Musk Fans Cheer
Screengrab: YouTube/SpaceX

SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, blew up during its first full integrated flight test on Thursday at the company’s Starbase in South Texas. Though the vehicle successfully blasted off from the launchpad, it failed to complete a planned separation of its two stages, and fell back to the ground shortly in what SpaceX called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” 

Images from the livestream appear to show the booster tumbling and explosions erupting on the launch vehicle.


The company hopes this huge reusable rocket will ultimately carry humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars, in addition to hauling massive payloads of up to 250 tons to Earth orbit, and beyond. The failure prevented Starship from performing a full orbital voyage as planned, though SpaceX tweeted that the short-lived flight “will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary.”  

Standing at nearly 400 feet high, Starship is the tallest launch vehicle in history, and the only rocket of this scale that is intended to be fully reusable. The rocket’s first stage, called the Super Heavy, is equipped with 33 engines, a record-breaking number that will enable it to deliver its extremely heavy packages into space. The second “Starship” stage, which sits atop the first, is a self-contained spacecraft that will carry crews and materials to outer space destinations. 

Aside from its unprecedented size and lifting capacity, Starship is also idiosyncratic in its choice of fuel; the vehicle’s Raptor engines run on methane and oxygen gas as opposed to the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen used in most other heavy-lift rockets, such as NASA’s Space Launch System or the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5. 

Methane is more affordable than existing options, though this novel propellant requires the vehicle’s oxygen to be chilled to roughly -200°C. This necessity scuttled SpaceX’s first launch attempt on Monday, as a valve froze as a result of the frigid temperatures. 

Starship has undergone many progressive tests in recent years, often with explosive results. SpaceX and its customers have a lot riding on the eventual success of the rocket, as it is a keystone of the Artemis program, a NASA-led international effort to return humans to the surface of the Moon this decade.