SpaceX reveals cause of Starship’s explosion; intentionally activated Flight Termination System

SpaceX's next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket self-destructs after its launch from the company's Boca Chica launchpad on a brief uncrewed test flight near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. April 20, 2023 in a still image from video. SpaceX/Handout via REUTERS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

SpaceX delighted its fans worldwide on April 20th when it launched the fully-stacked Starship for the first time. While the launch of the world’s largest and most powerful rocket generated a lot of excitement and met SpaceX’s primary objectives, the rocket’s explosion was a sad conclusion. The rocket maker has now revealed why the mission ended in bursts of flames; triggered Flight Termination System (FTS) after multiple engines shut down.

The Starship was powered by 33 Raptor V2 engines that burned methane as the primary fuel. It generated more than 16.5 million pounds of thrust to the excitement of the cheering crowd. However, the rocket began tumbling four minutes into the flight before exploding mid-air.

SpaceX reacted by triggering the FTS after multiple Raptor engines shut down unexpectedly. While this caused an explosion, the self-destruction ensured the Starship did not steer off course and cause destruction on land. The explosion happened while the rocket was above the ocean.

According to a statement on SpaceX’s website, “The vehicle cleared the pad and beach as Starship climbed to an apogee of ~39 km [kilometers] over the Gulf of Mexico – the highest of any Starship to-date. The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble. The Flight Termination System was commanded on both the booster and ship.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter that his company has learned from the test flight. The next flight could come as soon as one month after repairing the launch pad mount.

The company canceled the first launch attempt due to valve issues on April 17th.

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