SpaceX on Thursday tested its next-generation rocket designed for missions to the moon and Mars, ending in an explosion amid cheers from employees who gathered to watch a livestream of the launch.
The rocket ignited and blasted skyward for about four minutes, but the separation of the booster from the spacecraft that sat atop the rocket appeared to fail. Some of the booster’s 33 engines appeared to not ignite.
The rocket then began to tumble downward before exploding.
The cause of the explosion and failure of the separation was not immediately known, though the rocket’s blast-off already meant the test was considered a success.
“As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” SpaceX tweeted shortly after the test. “Teams will continue to review data and work toward 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 aboard for a planned 1½-hour flight. Starship is meant to be a reusable vehicle capable of carrying massive cargo loads into space.
The test flight is the biggest step yet for SpaceX efforts to create a reusable spacecraft that can fuel space exploration that goes beyond current limitations. And while the rocket and its spacecraft are designed to be recoverable, Thursday’s test planned for them to fall into the ocean.