Starship’s Maiden Orbital Test Lasted 4 Minutes Before the Rocket Exploded

Starship experienced a "rapid unscheduled disassembly" a few minutes into the mission, SpaceX said.

Starship successfully blasted off at 8:33 a.m. Central Time but separation failed to occur and the rocket blew up. Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

A nearly 400-foot-tall Starship rocket prototype successfully lifted off today (April 20) from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas in its first orbital test flight. The rocket initially climbed smoothly, but its first-stage booster failed to separate from the upper stage, causing the mission to end prematurely. Starship appeared to explode in the sky about four minutes after liftoff.

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There was a brief hold of about 40 seconds before the scheduled liftoff as the SpaceX team conducted final ground checks. The countdown resumed shortly after and the rocket blasted off as planned without causing any damage to the launch pad—a worst-case scenario SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discussed before the test.

A few minutes into the mission, Starship experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” before stage separation, SpaceX said in a tweet. “With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary.”

Today’s launch was SpaceX’s second attempt at launching Starship to orbit. The test was initially scheduled for April 17 but was aborted at the last minute due to a pressure valve issue with the rocket’s booster.

Starship rocket
The stacked Starship prototype on the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas ahead of its first orbital flight. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Starship is a rocket designed to fly humans to Mars one day. Standing at 394 feet tall when fully assembled, it is the tallest spacecraft ever built. SpaceX has built more than a dozen prototypes of Starship since 2019 for various tests. The one used in today’s launch is the 20th iteration of the rocket, consisting of a cylinder-shaped upper stage called SN20  (“SN” stands for “serial number”) and a giant booster called Super Heavy.

Starship’s Maiden Orbital Test Lasted 4 Minutes Before the Rocket Exploded