Last week SpaceX conducted its first orbital test flight of Starship, the rocket slated to be the transportation humans will take to walk on Mars.
After a very long road of development, SpaceX launched Starship on April 20 from SpaceX's seaside Starbase facility at Boca Chica Beach, South Texas. The 394-foot-tall rocket shocked onlookers as it engaged its thrusters and began climbing in altitude.
The rocket consists of two stages. The first stage is called Super Heavy and stands at 165-feet-tall, and features 33 Raptor engines that generate a staggering 16.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, which is twice NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the previous record holder for the most powerful rocket ever launched. Stacked atop Super Heavy is the second stage called Starship, which is where the rocket's payload will be stored along with any future astronauts.
SpaceX's recent launch was unmanned and was the company's first attempt at getting the next-generation to reach orbit, or as defined by the Karman line, the boundary line between Earth's atmosphere and space. Measuring 62 miles above the Earth's surface, SpaceX's goal was to send Starship to the Karman line, into orbit, and on a journey around Earth with a hopeful safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii. However, that didn't go to plan.
Only four minutes after liftoff Super Heavy failed to separate from Starship, resulting in the rocket beginning to tumble out of control. SpaceX was forced to initiate the rocket's explosive termination sequence, which the company called "rapid unscheduled disassembly". Despite the fiery ending for Starship's first orbital test, company CEO Elon Musk congratulated SpaceX on the success of the mission as much was learned from what was achieved in the four minutes after liftoff.
Notably, Musk has said during past interviews that there was no guarantee that launching Starship would even work. The SpaceX CEO even went as far as to say during one interview that there was about a 50/50 chance that it would fly or explode. We got both of those.
The event was captured from multiple different angles, with SpaceX releasing some awesome slow-motion footage captured from a camera located on the launch pad and some photographs of Starship mid-flight. Some footage worth watching has been released by the Everyday Astronaut Twitter account, which writes that it was captured using an "8K tracker," and boy, it's gorgeous. It's the best footage I have found so far.
SpaceX has already said that it's planning another orbital test flight in the next few months and that all data gathered during its first attempt will be used to improve its second attempt.