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Historic Starship launch, success. Explosive finale!

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Starship soars!

The SpaceX Starship prototype blasted off the pad at 8:33 a.m. CDT (13:33 UTC) Thursday morning, April 20, 2023. It was a beautiful launch, and, on the livestream, SpaceX anchors appeared ebullient about the amount of “data” gathered. After all, SpaceX has other Starships, and other booster rockets, waiting in the wings. But – at T+4:01 – the mega-spacecraft began tumbling. The range master initiated self-destruct, ending the flight as debris rained into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was only a test. And no one was aboard the craft. The only destruction on the ground we’ve heard about so far was to the windows of a car at the launch site. See the tweet below.

And thus a new hashtag began trending on Twitter: RUD for “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

What a glorious test launch! We especially loved the in-flight view of the heavy-lift rocket’s 33 engines, burning through the fog that appeared over Gulf of Mexico skies, minutes after the rocket launch from Starbase in Boca Chica, in far southern Texas.

Details, details

But, for rocket launches, the devil is in the details. During flight, it appeared at least five of the main booster’s engines either shut down or failed to fire at ignition.

And the rocket began to tumble about two minutes into its ascent, just as viewers were looking for stage separation.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew Mission Alpha for the European Space Agency, shared video of the liftoff and reminded spaceflight fans the test was a success despite the fiery ending.

Meanwhile, on the ground …

The only destruction on the ground we’ve heard about so far was to the windows of a car at the launch site. There also seemed to be some grass fires, or maybe some fires at the launch pad, after launch. And there were reports of “particulates” raining down on the town of Port Isabel, near the launch site.

And from space …

The National Weather Service reported that GOES satellite imagery picked up the launch.

The entire livestream is here

2nd launch attempt this week

The April 20 launch was preceded by an earlier launch attempt on April 17 that was scrubbed at the last minute.

But you know SpaceX! The company targeted as soon as Thursday, April 20, for the second attempt at a first flight test of a fully integrated Starship and Super Heavy rocket from Starbase in Texas. Fans were on the edge of their seats. The launch came at 13:33 UTC (8:33 a.m. CDT). Re-watch SpaceX’s live broadcast of the launch on the player above or via YouTube. SpaceX’s coverage started about 45 minutes before liftoff.

There was much speculation techs couldn’t ready the rocket for a Thursday test. But in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon, April 19, SpaceX reaffirmed the rapid turn-around.

SpaceX’s Starship 1st flight attempt scrubbed

During countdown Monday, April 17, engineers identified a pressurization issue in the boosters, which caused SpaceX to scrub the Starship launch. Countdown continued to the T-40 second point, and the day was used for a wet dress rehearsal instead.

After a long wait and much nail-biting, the SpaceX Starship rocket – the world’s biggest, most powerful rocket – finally got Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch approval Friday, April 14, 2023. Starship is designed to carry crew and cargo into Earth’s orbit, then – on future missions – to the moon and Mars. No one was aboard the craft for this test orbit around Earth. However, South Texas was crowded with people eager to watch the inaugural launch of the largest rocket ever to fly on Monday morning.

Watch the first attempt here:

The culprit responsible for the scrub turned out to be a frozen valve.

This is only a test …

SpaceX is great about providing exciting live streams of its launches. You can watch their broadcasts at SpaceX’s YouTube channel and check social media channels for updates on the launch times. Follow SpaceX on Twitter.

Starship is SpaceX’s fully reusable heavy-lift vehicle, designed to carry crew and cargo into Earth’s orbit, then to the moon and Mars. It stands 394 feet (120 meters) tall … the tallest rocket in the world.

Of course, SpaceX is known for its spectacular upright landings. And it did accomplish an upright landing of the Starship upper stage in 2021. But, for this test, SpaceX didn’t plan any landings of the rocket or the spacecraft. Both were supposed to fall into the sea.

Where was the rocket supposed to go during this test? Would it have reached orbit? As quoted by PBSNewsHour, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at a Morgan Stanley conference last month:

I’m not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement. It won’t be boring.

I think it’s got, I don’t know, hopefully about a 50% chance of reaching orbit.

See SpaceX upcoming launches

Had the RUD been avoided Thursday, Starship’s path would have been the same one it would have followed Monday.

What is Starship?

Starship is a two-stage vehicle, and this was the first test of its two stages together. Starship is designed to fly to orbit on the power of its towering main booster, called the Super Heavy. That combination – Booster 7 carrying Ship 24 – was the first full Starship to fly. It was also the first flight of the main booster.

The upper stage – the secondary crew and cargo stage, which someday will deliver crew and cargo to its destination – went a few miles up during a test flight a few years ago. It soared into Earth’s stratosphere.

Chrome cylinder viewed from the top standing in a huge mass of orange and yellow flame.
SpaceX’s Starship Super Heavy Booster 7 undergoing a static test fire on February 9, 2023, at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. Starship could perform an orbital test flight as soon as Thursday, April 20, 2023. Image via SpaceX.

How to visit Starbase?

Starbase isn’t like NASA or other aerospace construction facilities. It sits on a public highway. And – for now at least – there are very few restrictions to where the public can go, except for not trespassing on SpaceX property.

All that freedom can lead to unintended chaos.

Fortunately, Tim Dodd – aka the Everyday Astronaut, who will soon be taking his own Starship flight to the moon – produced a video guide to visiting Boca Chica and Starbase.

Today we’ll do a full rundown on how exactly to visit Starbase, what and where Starbase is, tips on how to visit like where you can and can’t go, where to watch a launch from, where to fly into, tips on when to book flights if you’re trying to catch a launch, where to stay, where to eat, and other fun things to do in the area while you’re inevitably waiting for a launch.

Note that SpaceX has announced that Route 4, which goes between Brownsville, Texas, and Starbase, will close before and during future launches and testing.

View Boca Chica road closures, via Starbase

What to expect during the Starship flight?

If you’re watching a future test flight from home, you might still like to know minute-by-minute what you’re seeing. The folks at have you covered with a video run-through:

Join us as we break down the countdown sequence, including the propellant load, chilldown of the engines and other important events to look out for. We’ll also draw similarities between Starship and SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Don’t miss out on this exciting event and find out what to expect from the countdown.

Image from Monday’s Starship launch attempt

Pinkish blue sunrise colors and the vertical Starship rocket seen at a distance across a body of water.
EarthSky’s Deborah Byrd was at the southern tip of South Padre Island – just outside the keep-out zone – in an attempt to watch Starship launch on Monday. Things were just starting to get exciting when the launch was scrubbed.

Bottom line: The SpaceX Starship launched successfully on Thursday, April 20. Details here, plus a place to rewatch the broadcast stream. A launch attempt on April 17 failed due to a pressurization issue.

Read: What to know about SpaceX’s upcoming test flight of its giant Starship rocket

April 21, 2023
Human World

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