Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News
On Thursday, April 20, SpaceX successfully launched the most potent rocket ever created, but only a short time later, when the 120-meter-tall Starship spacecraft was leaving the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, it lost control and exploded in midair.
Despite the fiery end, Elon Musk’s commercial spaceflight company hailed the initial test flight as a success because it provided a wealth of information for the team to use to refine the rocket’s design before attempting a full flight that would see the upper stage of the vehicle reach orbit for the first time.
Immediately following the mission’s dramatic conclusion, it was evident that a significant amount of dust and debris from the launch and explosion had fallen over a large area. On Thursday, a Bloomberg report revealed that the damage included a 3.5-acre fire in Boca Chica State Park that was later put out.
Photo Credit: San Antonio Express News
The launch destroyed the pad, according to the Texas division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, launching concrete, steel, and other components into the air before they crashed back to earth.
“Impacts from the launch include numerous large concrete chunks, stainless steel sheets, metal, and other objects hurled thousands of feet away along with a plume cloud of pulverized concrete that deposited material up to 6.5 miles northwest of the pad site,” the wildlife service stated in a statement seen by the Houston Chronicle. It was also mentioned that no dead wildlife or other creatures had yet been discovered in the impacted areas.
Residents of Port Isabel, a tiny town approximately 6 miles from SpaceX’s launch complex, also stated that after the launch, dust started to fall on the area, which wasn’t what they had anticipated.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed shortly after the failed Starship flight that it had launched a “mishap investigation” into the incident.
“An anomaly occurred during the ascent and prior to stage separation, resulting in a loss of the vehicle,” the FAA stated. “No injuries or damage to public property have been reported.”
It continued, saying that a return to flight of the Starship—which consists of the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage spacecraft—is “based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety,” adding that “this is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”
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It’s unclear when the Starship will take off on its second test flight because SpaceX must replace its destroyed launch pad and the FAA must finish its investigation in a way that allows SpaceX to resume flights from Boca Chica.
Since China plans to employ a modified version of the upper stage for the first crewed lunar landing since 1972, NASA, for one, will be closely monitoring progress. The mission is scheduled to launch in 2025, although that deadline can change.