SpaceX on Thursday tested its next-generation rocket, which is being developed for missions to the Moon and Mars, and ended in an explosion to cheers from employees who gathered to watch a livestream of the launch.
The unmanned rocket ignited and shot into the sky for about four minutes, but the booster’s separation from the spacecraft sitting on the rocket seemed to fail. Some of the booster’s 33 engines did not appear to fire.
The rocket then began to plummet downward before exploding.
The cause of the explosion and separation failure was not immediately known, although the launch of the missile already meant the test was considered successful by the company.
“As if flight testing wasn’t exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly prior to phase separation,” SpaceX said tweeted shortly after the exam. “The teams will continue to review data and work towards our next flight test.”
The rocket – the most powerful ever developed – is set to play a key role in NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to put humans on the moon in 2025.
Thursday’s test flight launched SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft with nobody on board for a scheduled 1½-hour flight. Starship is intended to be a reusable vehicle capable of transporting huge loads of cargo into space.
The company had emphasized that the test was an early step.
“Congratulations @SpaceX Team on an exciting Starship test launch!” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “Learned a lot for the next test start in a few months.”
The test flight is the biggest step yet for SpaceX’s efforts to create a reusable spacecraft that can advance space exploration beyond current limits. And while the rocket and its spacecraft are recoverable, Thursday’s test planned for them to fall into the ocean.
The test aims to collect data on the system’s performance, which is crucial for future development.
Bill Nelson, the head of NASA, congratulated SpaceX on the test.
“Every great achievement throughout history has required some degree of calculated risk, for with great risk comes great reward,” Nelson wrote on twitter. “I look forward to everything SpaceX learns, towards the next flight test – and beyond.”