Hard blow for NASA and SpaceX, the space company of billionaire Elon Musk. Both stages of its massive Starship rocket exploded shortly after their successful separation this Saturday, the company announced in the live video stream of the second test launch of this rocket, the most powerful ever built. However, this second test flight was closely scrutinized by the American space agency, which is counting on this vessel for its return missions to the Moon.
The Super Heavy propulsion stage and its 33 engines, and the Starship spacecraft, placed above and which gives its name to the entire rocket, experienced a ” unplanned rapid disassembly » according to the company’s terms. The giant 120 meter high rocket was torn off the ground shortly after 7:00 a.m. local time (1:00 p.m. GMT) from the SpaceX base in Boca Chica, in the far south of Texas, in the United States.
First flight ended in a gigantic explosion
Starship’s first test flight ended in the spring with a gigantic explosion before the two stages separated. On April 20, the rocket took off for the first time in its complete configuration. But several engines did not work, and SpaceX intentionally blew up the rocket after four minutes.
The takeoff had propelled a cloud of dust several kilometers from the launch pad, itself heavily damaged. Chunks of concrete were catapulted under the power of the engines, and a fire broke out in a nearby regional park. The American air regulator (FAA) opened an investigation, before finally giving the green light on Wednesday for a second flight.
If the separation system had been changed for this second test, the flight plan had remained the same as last April: the vessel had to make a turn ” almost complete Earth » and land in the Pacific, off the coast of Hawaii, described the billionaire. It was not technically supposed to reach Earth’s orbit, but to be located ” just below “.
The return to the Moon in 2025, more and more unrealistic
For the company, the explosion of prototypes is less problematic in terms of image than it would be for NASA and its public funds, according to experts. Chaining together tests using a rapid iteration process allows it to accelerate the development of its machines.
But the development of Starship does not seem to be fast enough to match the plans of the American space agency, which has signed a contract with SpaceX. A modified version of the machine must serve as a lunar lander to place astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. This mission, named Artemis 3, is officially planned for 2025. A date which seems increasingly unrealistic.
Beyond this new unforeseen event for the reconquest of the Moon,The associations are concerned about the environmental impact of this initiative. Several of them are taking the FAA to court, accused of having incorrectly assessed the environmental impact of the new rocket. “ We fear that this second launch will once again create significant environmental damage “, Jared Margolis, lawyer for the NGO Center for Biological Diversity, told AFP.
SpaceX chosen by Europe to launch four satellites in 2024
According to Wall Street Journal, SpaceX signed an agreement at the end of October to launch into orbit up to four of the main European navigation and secure communications satellites. According to this agreement, which must still be validated by European institutions, the satellites will be launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from the United States..
The European Space Agency (ESA) is facing a real crisis in space launchers, which are essential for deploying satellites. Since February 2022, it has no longer been able to launch the Russian Soyuz rocket from Kourou in Guyana due to the war in Ukraine. Ariane 5 ended its career in July and the first flight of its successor Ariane 6 is now planned for 2024the tests having fallen behind schedule.