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The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

SpaceX Starship Launch Successful Despite “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”

SpaceX’s recent launch of Starship marks the continuation of its ambitious attempts to create a powerful, reusable rocket to deliver crew and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the moon, Mars, and beyond. Though both its April and September launches resulted in explosion, SpaceX is optimistic about Starship’s development and future success.

A “rapid unscheduled disassembly” sounds like a pretty technical term, but it’s just a fancy way of saying something blew up. That was the fate of both of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket test launches.

Starship aims to lower the cost of missions to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, and beyond. The powerful rocket is designed for reusability for transporting crew and cargo. It is made up of two primary stages: the Super Heavy booster and the second stage, the reusable Starship spacecraft. Combined, they are also referred to as Starship.

After the two stages separate, the first stage lands back at the launch site, while the second stage contains the payload.

Starship’s Nov. 18, 2023 mission was to conduct a 90 minute, partial trip around the Earth in low orbit and splashdown in the Pacific to be recovered.

Starship successfully launched from Starbase, in Boca Chica, Texas, in order to perform a 90-minute flight in low Earth orbit and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean (Credit: New York Times).

However, roughly eight minutes after launch, shortly after stage separation, the Super Heavy booster experienced what SpaceX referred to as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” according to SpaceX via X (formerly Twitter). Starship, the second stage, exploded soon after.

The rocket’s cause of explosion is suspected to be due to an automated flight termination command to self-destruct, though the reason is unclear. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently investigating what occurred during Starship’s second test flight.

This was the second test launch of Starship, the first of which occurred in April 2023. During the first launch, the rocket’s liftoff heavily damaged the launch pad and surrounding infrastructure. Many of Super Heavy’s 33 raptor engines were disabled or failed during the flight, and the rocket received a command to automatically terminate, which failed to destroy the rocket. The rocket began to tumble, and eventually exploded four minutes after launch.

“Despite early failures, I see the future of space flight inevitably progressing further through the cosmos and to Mars first, but with unfathomable amounts of wasted resources, money, and most harrowingly, time, if we proceed with persisting indiscretion and unthriftiness,” said junior Isaac Xu.

SpaceX considered its most recent launch to be a success despite its explosion, as it achieved double the flight time and achieved successful stage separation, both of which its preceding launch failed to do.

Additionally, this second launch successfully executed a “hot-stage separation,” during which the Super Heavy booster did not fully shut off during separation in order to maximize efficiency and minimize the risk of engine failure that led to Starship’s explosion during its first launch.

Starship’s successful stage separation, almost three minutes after launch (Credit: SpaceX).

“I would say that the test launch was a success, because it will give insight on how to improve the rocket in the future,” junior Emma Wen said. “Not anytime soon, but I can definitely see space flight being an expensive recreational activity.”

Regardless, Starship’s success has implications beyond SpaceX, with NASA’s Artemis missions, the third of which aims to land humans on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972, as well as land the first female astronaut and first astronaut of color on the moon. However, Artemis III is designed around the Starship rocket, making many more test flights necessary before it can be used in NASA missions.

These Artemis missions would require nearly 20 Starship launches, as well as rigorous and successful testing. These launches would not just be to get to the moon, but also to refuel in Earth orbit. To achieve this, SpaceX is planning Starship variants that would act as a refueling station. One would store propellant, essentially acting as an orbital “gas station”, while another would supply the “gas station” with fuel.

A Starship launched to the moon or Mars would dock at this “gas station” to refuel, then continue on its missions.

These initial two Starship launches mark its progression and development.

And despite these explosive results, SpaceX remains optimistic. SpaceX CEO and founder, Elon Musk, stated that the third Starship rocket should be ready for launch in three to four weeks, though it still needs to be cleared and given a launch license by the FAA.

“I still think the future of space flight is positive, despite the explosion. If SpaceX can determine the cause of the explosion, it can use this information to develop better rockets,” sophomore Maggie Xiao said. “While it’s more ideal to find what works, finding what doesn’t work can be equally valuable.”

The Super Heavy booster exploded after its successful stage separation a few minutes after launch. The booster’s explosion was quickly followed by stage two’s explosion. The Starship rocket’s flight lasted eight minutes (Credit: New York Times).
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About the Contributor
Gloria Hsia, Managing Editor
Gloria Hsia is one of Guide Post’s managing editors. She is an officer of several clubs, including DECA and Art Club. In addition, she plays doubles on the girls’ badminton team. Outside of school, Gloria enjoys doing various mediums of art, reading random books, and contemplating existential questions in her free time. She also likes anything space related (and Highland Cows).

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