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Starship's first Test flight ends in RUD, will it impact Artemis III mission?

Updated: Apr 30

The world's largest rocket was destroyed without completing the mission; telemetry data will be used for improvement

On Thursday, April 20, 2023 at 08:33 CST (13:33 GMT), SpaceX conducted its first orbital launch of the Starship system (S24 spacecraft) and Super Heavy "booster" (B7 rocket). The 119-meter, 4,997-ton rocket successfully lifted off from the Launch Pad, ascended, went supersonic, and crossed the Max Q zone - the point of maximum dynamic pressure - but was destroyed just over four minutes after launch. Starship 24 was the first orbital prototype, and the B7 booster was the first to be equipped with 33 Raptor engines, according to the project. This test flight was not intended to reach orbit but instead sent the spacecraft on a long suborbital trajectory, crashing near Hawaii 90 minutes after liftoff. The Starship and the Super Heavy, which crashed in the Gulf of Mexico off Boca Chica, could not be recovered. SpaceX has several other Starship and Super Heavy vehicles in various stages of production, and they have already incorporated some design changes. "Learned a lot for the next test in a few months," SpaceX President and Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the flight. SpaceX is analyzing the telemetry and will make a test report to be delivered to NASA, as the American space agency intends to use the Starship spacecraft to land astronauts on the Moon.

It's true that SpaceX downplayed the failure of the flight's formal objectives, such as the first stage flight phase, spacecraft separation (staging), vacuum ignition of S24's engines, its fractional orbit, and subsequent crash into the Pacific ocean. However, it should be noted that the Starship did achieve a significant milestone by climbing to a 39km apogee over the Gulf of Mexico, which was the highest of any Starship to date. During the flight test, the vehicle did experience several engine shutdowns, lost altitude, and began to roll over. The flight termination system (FTS) was commanded both on the booster and on the ship, resulting in the destruction of the spacecraft.

It is true that a few days before the test, CEO Elon Musk expressed contentment if the rocket only did not destroy the firing table and the integration and capture tower. This may have been due to warnings from engineers that the chances of success were low. However, relative to the planned schedule, the flight can be considered a failure, even though the telemetry data is crucial for the development of the project. It's important to note that failures provide opportunities to examine poorly designed or improperly executed designs and procedures, and it's through these failures that progress can be made.