SpaceX did not finish the entire mission, and both the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy booster exploded over the ocean.
But there were some big highlights for SpaceX.
The rocket made it much further into its flight profile than during the first flight attempt in April, when Starship began tumbling tail-over-head about four minutes after liftoff. The Starship never even separated from the Super Heavy booster during that test.
This time, however, SpaceX did achieve that milestone: About two and a half minutes into flight, the Starship powered up its engines and successfully broke away using a brand new method called “hot staging.”
It marked a crucial moment for SpaceX, as hot staging was expected to be “the riskiest part of the flight,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in October.
SpaceX had already said it would consider the mission a success if Starship made it past that point. And it did.
It did not, however, go exactly as planned. The Super Heavy booster began tumbling out of control just after separation, and it exploded over the Gulf of Mexico just moments later. SpaceX had hoped to reignite the Super Heavy’s engines and guide it to a controlled landing.
Losing the booster isn’t a huge setback. Initially, Starship continued moving along just fine after breaking away from Super Heavy.
About 8 minutes after liftoff, cheers could be heard echoing throughout mission control as the Starship was approaching the end of its engine burn — putting it on a path toward Earth’s orbit.
But 9 minutes after launch — SpaceX made it clear that it lost video signal with Starship.
And about 11 and a half minutes into the flight, the company confirmed it had lost data. That indicated Starship wasn’t flying as planned.
Engineer John Insprucker, hosting SpaceX’s livestream, then confirmed SpaceX was forced to destroy Starship so it didn’t veer off course.
The company is already emphasizing that, in its view, this test was a success.
“We got so much data and that will all help us to improve for our next flight,” said Kate Tice, an engineering manager for quality systems at SpaceX, during the livestream.
In a tweet, the company said the same thing as it did after April’s short-lived test flight:
The company has been known to embrace failures and fiery mishaps in the early stages of rocket development. It’s built into the company’s engineering philosophy, which welcomes early risks during test flights in the name of learning and refining the vehicle’s design quicker than if it relied on ground tests.