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Test flight for SpaceX's massive Starship rocket reaches space, explodes again

USA TODAY
SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The second launch of SpaceX's uncrewed Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful craft on Earth, went farther than the first attempt in April but exploded after about 12 minutes into flight.

The Starship, which lifted off about 8:04 a.m. ET from SpaceX’s private Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas, near Brownsville on the Gulf of Mexico, had a stage separation and reached space. But ground crew lost communications with the rocketship after nine minutes, .

That's an improvement over the previous Starship test flight, in which several of the spacecraft's engines failed and exploded about four minutes after its launch.

The two-stage, 394-foot-tall Starship is classified as a super heavy-lift launch vehicle. The tests aim to show how well the stages work together in flight.

SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, has a to get astronauts to the moon as early as 2025 and eventually launch missions to Mars.

Starship test launch, take 2:All about Musk's SpaceX rocket

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship breaks the sound barrier as it launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

What happened to SpaceX's Starship rocket?

SpaceX launched its mega Starship rocket at about 8 a.m., and the booster and spacecraft successfully separated – the point when the first launch in April failed – before the 3-minute mark.

Shortly after stage separation, the rocket's massive Super Heavy booster exploded with the  vehicle itself detonating before reaching its target altitude in what SpaceX called a "rapid unscheduled disassembly," according to .

After losing communication with Starship, SpaceX said at about 11½ minutes into the flight it had had also lost data on Starship and that the rocket was not on the flight path expected.

"What we do believe right now is that the automated flight termination system on second stage appears to have triggered very late in the burn, as we were headed downrange out over the Gulf of Mexico," said SpaceX's principal integration engineer John Insprucker said during a livestream of the launch, according to Space.com.

SpaceX was forced to destroy Starship so it didn't veer off course, Insprucker told CNN.com.

SpaceX deemed the launch a success because the Starship wasn't meant to achieve orbit, but was to splash down into the Pacific Ocean. "We're not targeting orbit today, we're targeting almost orbit," Siva Bharadvaj, a SpaceX operations engineer, told Space.com. The goal was to "get to a thrust profile similar to what we would need for orbit, but also energy level that the ship would need to dissipate for reentry."

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SpaceX also launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Saturday

SpaceX has a busy weekend. SpaceX also launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 23 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit at 12:05 a.m. ET on Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on the east-central coast of Florida.

Those 23 Starlink internet satellites, which were packed inside the 230-foot rocket's payload, are to be deployed as part of Starlink's broadband internet service, meant to help supply coverage to rural and remote communities with a "constellation" of satellites in low orbit around the Earth.

Then, on Sunday, Nov. 19, SpaceX also plans to launch another rocket with 22 satellites from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base, with a scheduled liftoff of 1:55 a.m. ET, according to .

Starlink began providing internet service to Ukraine soon after the Ukraine-Russia war began. Eventually, when Musk said Starlink could no longer afford to supply it for free.

Then, in September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for an investigation after Musk said he denied Ukraine's military access to Starlink last year, an action that prevented an attack on Russian warships.

Contributing: George Petras, Jennifer Borresen, Stephen J. Beard, and the Associated Press.

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