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SpaceX Starship launch: World’s biggest rocket loses contact after reaching space

After months of delays, SpaceX finally launched its massive Starship rocket as part of a major flight test of the Mars-bound craft – before losing it around 10 minutes after lift off.

Saturday’s attempt comes seven months after the first effort to launch a fully stacked Starship – which is both the tallest and most powerful rocket ever built – ended in a catastrophic explosion, just minutes after lift off.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk says Starship holds the key to making humanity a multi-planetary species, with plans to build hundreds of the spacecraft in order to set up a permanent human colony on Mars.

But first Starship had to conduct an uncrewed orbital test, which saw it leave from its launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas, before both stages of the rocket were lost.

A 20 minute launch window opened at 7am CT (1pm GMT), with the flight scheduled to last around 90 minutes, though ending within 10. You can find all the latest updates and watch a live stream below.

Starship launch key points

  • Watch the live stream of the Starship launch attempt

  • What was meant to happen during today’s Starship launch attempt

  • What actually happened during today’s Starship launch attempt

  • SpaceX loses Starship rocket

Starship launch live: Stream of historic attempt begins

12:30 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The live stream of today’s Starship launch attempt is here, you can watch it below.

Hello and welcome...

Thursday 16 November 2023 18:59 , Andrew Griffin

... to The Independent’s live coverage of the (attempted) launch of Starship.

SpaceX tweet shows Starship standing on its pad

Thursday 16 November 2023 19:01 , Andrew Griffin

SpaceX has tweeted an image of Starship standing ready for its launch.

But the post isn’t only a set of nice images. It’s also a reminder of what SpaceX is hoping to happen: “the stress on the question of “how much we learn” and “rapid iterative development” is a hint that the spacecraft might not have a safe journey this time around, either, but that SpaceX hopes to gain useful information either way.

Fears launch might be delayed

Thursday 16 November 2023 19:05 , Andrew Griffin

Those watching the latest at the launchpad are seeing developments that might suggest SpaceX has found an issue that could cause it to “destack” (that is, take apart) Starship.

SpaceX hasn’t yet said anything about a possible delay to the launch. But the company’s livestream did briefly switch from 17 November to 18 November, which might be an indication it is being delayed.

The only confirmation however will come from SpaceX, and there is no indication when that might be.

The first launch of Starship did not go ahead on its first day. That had been scheduled for 17 April but it was pulled with about eight minutes to go because of a frozen valve; SpaceX scrubbed that launch and held it on 20 April, when it did actually take off.

Starship being taken apart

Thursday 16 November 2023 19:10 , Andrew Griffin

Starship is being destacked, which is to say taken back apart after it was put together, according to this image from Chris Bergin at Nasa Space Flight.

That doesn’t mean it won’t launch tomorrow, and SpaceX are yet to give any kind of update. But it almost certainly wasn’t part of the plan.

Elon Musk tweets about free speech as public waits for news on Starship launch

Thursday 16 November 2023 19:23 , Andrew Griffin

As the world awaits for news out of SpaceX (see below), Elon Musk has posted. But it’s not about Starship – rather it’s about free speech and X:

His previous post was a retweet of the SpaceX post below, about Starship being stacked, so he knows people are interested. And he is well known to keep a very close eye on Starship.

Launch postponed

Thursday 16 November 2023 19:59 , Andrew Griffin

Elon Musk has announced that the launch is postponed until Saturday, as suspected.

No information yet about timings, though the SpaceX livestream is showing the same time: 7am local central time.

What time will Starship launch?

Friday 17 November 2023 08:43 , Andrew Griffin

SpaceX says the launch window for the rearranged Starship launch will open at the same time it had planned for today: 7am local central time, which is 1pm UK time.

A live video will start about 35 minutes before, SpaceX says on its launch page.

Starship is back and stacked

Friday 17 November 2023 16:41 , Andrew Griffin

After being taken apart to make the required fixes to launch tomorrow, Starship has once again been stacked, and is standing tall* on its launchpad.

*Taller than any other rocket, for that matter.

Starship launch live: SpaceX shares photo of rocket ahead of countdown

10:17 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The 20 minute launch window for today’s attempt is set to open in less than three hours. We’ll have a live stream on this page in around two hours, as well as all the latest weather reports and updates concerning this historic effort.

Starship and its Super Heavy booster are already stacked and ready to go at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas, with the private space company sharing an image of the giant rocket system on X. It’s still the middle of the night at Starbase, but a giant spotlight is illuminating the scene as the final preparations get underway.

Starship launch live: SpaceX attempting 84th rocket to orbit in 2023

10:43 , Anthony Cuthbertson

If successful, today’s Starship launch will be the 84th time this year that SpaceX has sent a rocket into orbit – a record-extending figure.

The majority of the orbital launches in 2023 have been with reused Falcon 9 rockets, with today’s effort marking only the fifth time a new rocket has been used. It will also be the first time ever that SpaceX has succeeded in sending its Starship rocket into orbit, as well as the biggest rocket in history to achieve the feat.

This chart shows how quickly Falcon 9 rocket launches ramped up in recent years, and how reliable they have become. SpaceX will be hoping Starship can become its next workhorse.

Starship launch live: Elon Musk takes break from X storm to post about Starship

11:12 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX boss Elon Musk – who also heads several other multi-billion dollar companies – has had a busy few days, attracting hundreds of headlines and countless column inches after being accused of promoting an anti-semitic conspiracy theory on his platform X.

It’s led to criticism from the White House, as well as the loss of major advertisers Disey and IBM.

Despite the furore, the world’s richest person will be focussed on the Starship launch for the next few hours.

“Getting back to productive matters,” he wrote on X. “Starship flight 2 launches in ~6 hours!!”

Starship launch live: World’s biggest – and loudest – rocket prepares for lift off

11:30 , Anthony Cuthbertson

There is less than two hours to go until the launch window opens for what is not only the world’s biggest rocket, but also the world’s loudest.

SpaceX has issued a noise advisory, warning residents of Cameron County in Texas that Starship’s 33 Raptor engines may cause a disturbance.

I was in Cape Canaveral earlier this year to watch the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which is relatively small by comparison. It was still the loudest thing I have ever heard.

The frequency of the launches mean locals are pretty much unfazed by it these days, with one telling me that it’s becoming like an airport. You can read the full story here:

‘It’s becoming like an airport’: How SpaceX normalised rocket launches

Starship launch live: ‘All systems and weather are go'

11:33 , Anthony Cuthbertson

We have a new update from SpaceX – and it’s good news!

“All systems and weather are go for the second integrated flight test of Starship,” the space company writes on X.

Starship launch live: What to expect from today’s rocket test

12:11 , Anthony Cuthbertson

With one hour to go until the Starship launch window opens, here’s what to expect if all goes to plan.

Following the countdown, there are several key moments to look out for, beginning with the lift off itself. Several of the early Starship prototypes failed at this stage, however the last orbital launch attempt made it off the pad without any fuss.

Next comes Max Q at around 50 seconds after lift off, which is the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket.

Between two and three minutes after lift off is stage separation, which is where everything went wrong last time. SpaceX has tried to rectify this problem by adding an engine fire that will separate Starship from its Super Heavy booster.

While Starship continues on its journey around the planet, the booster rocket will attempt to come back down to land.

Roughly an hour and 17 minutes after the lift off, Starship will begin its reentry from orbit. 13 minutes later, SpaceX says there will be “an exciting landing”.

Here’s roughly what it will all look like:

 (SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Starship launch live: SpaceX prepares for countdown

12:21 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX has given a couple more updates from its Starship preparations. Propellant load for its Super Heavy booster is underway, as is the propellant load of Starship’s upper stage.

The launch window opens in 40 minutes and closes in one hour, so we could be seeing a countdown as soon as the window opens.

The live stream will be up and running shortly...

Starship launch live: A reminder of what happened last time

12:27 , Anthony Cuthbertson

On 20 April this year, SpaceX’s first attempt at sending Starship into orbit ended in a dramatic explosion just a few minutes after lift off. The issue came at the moment of stage separation, however SpaceX said the test should still be considered a success as it provided loads of data that will prove very useful for today’s attempt.

Here’s a video showing what happened last time. Hopefully we won’t be seeing a repeat.

Starship launch live: Countdown underway

12:34 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX says the biggest challenge for today will be the stage separation, which is where the first flight failed.

If that is successful, then anything beyond that will be considered a bonus.

“The further we fly, the more data we can collect,” SpaceX says.

The countdown has begun, the launch is scheduled for 25 minutes from now.

Starship launch live: Backup windows in place

12:39 , Anthony Cuthbertson

If anything goes wrong in the buildup and the launch has to be aborted, then the backup window is either 24 hour or 48 hours from today, depending on how far SpaceX gets through the countdown.

“While it’s not happening in a lab or on a test stand, this is absolutely a test. What we’re doing today will provide invaluable data to continue rapid development of Starship,” SpaceX posted to X a few minutes ago.

“This rapid, iterative development approach has been the basis for all of SpaceX’s major innovative advancements including Falcon, Dragon, and Starlink.”

 (SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Starship launch live: ‘Good chance of damage'

12:46 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX says there is a “good chance” that the Super Heavy booster will be damaged during the stage separation, which takes place around three minutes after lift off. Hopefully it will be minor damage, and not the catastrophic explosion that brought April’s test flight to a sudden end.

“Getting through hot staging would be a major milestone,” SpaceX said.

The company has made no assurances for this test flight, other than one. SpaceX writes on its website: “Excitement guaranteed.”

 (SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Starship launch live: Countdown hits 10 minutes

12:50 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The Sun is rising over Boca Chica, and Starship is peaking out above the fog.

Just 10 minutes to go now...

Starship launch live: Potential countdown hold as last checks carried out

12:56 , Anthony Cuthbertson

There’s less than five minutes of the countdown left to go. the final propellant is being loaded, with both stages set to be ready and loaded at T-minus three minutes.

A potential hold might take place at T-minus 40 seconds if any last checks are necessary.

The lifeguard is also still making sure that there are no boats in the launch zone.

Starship launch live: Countdown paused

13:01 , Anthony Cuthbertson

As expected, the countdown has been paused at T-minus 40 seconds.

The only thing limiting how long this pause might last is the launch window itself, which is set to close in 20 minutes.

The issue appears to be a late pressurisation on the second stage.

Starship launch live: Countdown underway

13:02 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Countdown back underway...

Starship launch live: We have lift off!

13:04 , Anthony Cuthbertson

We have lift off!

 (SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Starship launch live: Huge cheers from SpaceX team

13:05 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Huge cheers can be heard from SpaceX engineers as the world’s biggest rocket lifts off and heads up and out over the Gulf of Mexico.

Starship successfully passes Max Q and is about to attempt stage separation.

Starship launch live: Stage separation successful!

13:09 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The flight test is officially past the previous flight test, with a successful stage separation between the Starship rocket and its Super Heavy booster.

A few moments later, the Super Heavy booster experiences a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD) - otherwise known as a massive explosion.

The main rocket is still on its way, however, and is heading towards orbit.

This is the moment the stages separated:

 (SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Starship launch live: ‘Good shot’ at reaching orbit

13:12 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Starship is continuing on its nominal trajectoy, though it’s getting ever more difficult to actually see it on the live stream. As I type that, it goes completely out of view, but SpaceX says all the data it has looks good.

“We have a really good shot of hitting our target orbit,” SpaceX says.

Starship launch live: SpaceX feed cuts out for rocket

13:15 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX’s feed from the rocket has been lost.

“We think we may have lost the second stage,” SpaceX says.

While we wait to hear more, you can read about today’s successful launch right here:

SpaceX launches world’s most powerful rocket for first ever time

Starship launch live: Rocket disappears as it reaches max altitude

13:21 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX says the upper stage appears to have also experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly, so we won’t be seeing any more of it today. Small pieces will be plopping down into the Atlantic, though SpaceX has no plans to recover them, nor the remnants of its Super Heavy booster that exploded earlier.

Despite the loss of both stages of Starship, SpaceX says it has been an “incredibly successful day” that will provide plenty of data for the next test flight attempt.

13:52 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX has shared clips of the two major milestones accomplished on today’s test flight: Lift off and stage separation.

The clip of the stage separation ends just before the Super Heavy booster exploded, but you see it begin its descent back to Earth as SpaceX engineers on the ground cheer it on.

There is no clip of the upper stage exploding a few minutes later, and we’ll probable never see more than the onboard footage just before the RUD occurs.

Here’s the lift off:

And here’s the stage separation: