SpaceX’s huge Starship rocket, claimed to be the most powerful ever built, blasted off on an uncrewed first flight Thursday and flew for two minutes before tumbling out of control and exploding in a cloud of flaming debris. “Starship just experienced what we call a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”” said SpaceX. (This appears to be a euphemism.) The rocket took off from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.

Elon Musk, who monitored launch from the SpaceX control center tweeted: “Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship!” No mention of the Starship exploding. Fortunately, no reports of anyone hurt by falling debris.


33 methane-fueled Raptor engines powering the Super Heavy first stage roared to life at 9:30 a.m. EDT, two minutes later than planned because of minor technical snags. The engines quickly throttled up to 16 million pounds of thrust, but on-screen graphics in the SpaceX webcast showed 3 of the 33 Raptor engines had either shut down moments after liftoff or never ignited in the first place. More engines shut down before the Starship exploded at about 20 miles altitude. The published goal of today’s flight had been to reach space and travel most of the way around the planet, and to splash down in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii.

starship-goes boom after stuck valve stops booster stage from separating.
Starship goes boom after stuck valve stops booster stage from separating.

While SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is used often for the international commercial launch market, it is only partially reusable. The rocket’s first stage has now carried out 186 successful landings, but the upper stage is lost. Starship, capable of lifting 100 tons to low-Earth orbit, is designed to be fully reusable. NASA is paying SpaceX billions to build a variant of the Starship upper stage to carry astronauts down to the lunar surface in the next two to three years. This is one part of the big Artemis Program, that also uses contractors Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman.

To send a Starship to the moon or Mars, SpaceX must first launch it to low-Earth orbit where a succession of additional Starships will have to rendezvous, dock and autonomously refuel the moon-bound ship so it can blast out of Earth orbit and head for deep space. NASA’s contract also requires one unpiloted lunar test flight before astronauts will make a landing attempt.

In 2021, a Starship prototype landed successfully, then exploded. This is normal for rocket research, but a bit concerning now, when people may be on board soon. “Starship Explodes” may be in the headlines again.

David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.