By Steve Gorman and Arlene Eiras
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The spectacular explosion of SpaceX’s new Starship rocket minutes after it lifted off its launch pad on a first test flight is the latest vivid example of a “failure succeed” business formula serving it well to Elon Musk’s company, experts said Wednesday. Thursday.
Rather than view the fiery disintegration of Musk’s colossal next-generation Starship system as a setback, experts said the dramatic loss of the rocket would help speed up the vehicle’s development.
Images of the Starship falling out of control some 20 miles into the sky while mounted on its Super Heavy rocket booster before the combined vehicle exploded to pieces dominated media coverage of the highly anticipated launch.
SpaceX acknowledged that several of the Super Heavy’s 33 powerful Raport engines failed during ascent and that the booster rocket and Starship did not separate as designed before the ill-fated flight ended.
But SpaceX executives, including Musk, the California-based rocket company’s founder, CEO and chief engineer, praised the test flight for achieving the primary goal of getting the vehicle off the ground and providing a wealth of data that will drive the development of Starship.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
At least two experts in aerospace engineering and planetary science who spoke to Reuters agreed that the test flight brought benefits.
“This is a classic SpaceX hit flop,” said Garrett Reisman, a professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, a former NASA astronaut and also a senior adviser to SpaceX.
Reisman called the Starship test flight a hallmark of a SpaceX strategy that sets Musk’s company apart from traditional aerospace companies and even NASA for “this acceptance of failure when the consequences of failure are low.”
There were no astronauts on board for the uncrewed flight, and the rocket flew almost entirely over water from the Gulf Coast Starbase facility in South Texas to avoid possible injury or property damage on land from falling objects. debris.
“Although that rocket costs a lot of money, what really costs a lot of money is people’s salaries,” Reisman told Reuters in an interview hours after the launch on Thursday.
Reisman said SpaceX saves more money in the long run and takes less time to identify and fix engineering flaws by taking more risk in the development process rather than keeping “a great team working for years and years and years trying to make it perfect before that you’d even try.”
“I would say the timeline for people transport (aboard Starship) is sped up right now compared to a couple of hours ago,” Reisman said.
Planetary scientist Tanya Harrison, a fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Outer Space Institute, said clearing the launch tower and climbing through a critical point known as maximum aerodynamic pressure were major feats in the first flight of a spacecraft system. such a large and complex launch.
“It’s part of the testing process,” he said in an interview. “There are a lot of accidents that happen when you’re trying to design a new rocket. The fact that it launched made a lot of people really happy.”
She said the risks of a single flight test were small compared to the ambitious gains at stake.
“This is the biggest rocket humanity has ever tried to build,” he said, adding that it is designed to carry “orders of magnitude” more cargo and people to and from deep space than any existing spacecraft.
While NASA is working on a mission to recover samples of Martian soil and kilogram-measured minerals collected by the Mars Perseverance rover, Starship will transport many tons of rock, as well as ferry dozens of astronauts and entire lab facilities to and from Moon. and Mars, Harrison said.
Musk has cast Starship as crucial to SpaceX’s interplanetary exploration goals as well as its shorter-term launch business, with commercial satellites, scientific telescopes and eventually astronomy tourists expected to fully utilize the rocket system. reusable for space travel.
Citing SpaceX’s rapid pace of development since its founding in 2002, which has led to dozens of commercial missions a year with its low-Earth orbit workhorse, Falcon 9, Harrison said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had humans on Mars with Starship in the next decade”.
(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Arlene Eiras and Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)