SpaceX Starship
SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket lifts off from the company’s Boca Chica launchpad. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

SpaceX‘s giant Starship achieved near orbital altitude and speed in its second test flight, but contact was lost eight minutes into the flight after the spaceship apparently self destructed.

“Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on an exciting second integrated flight test of Starship! Starship successfully lifted off under the power of all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster and made it through stage separation,” the company tweeted.

The nearly 400-foot-tall, two-stage rocket blasted off from the California company’s Starbase launch site near Boca Chica in Texas, boosting the Starship spacecraft toward space

At 43 miles in altitude, the rocket system executed the crucial maneuver to separate the two stages, with the Super Heavy booster intended to plunge intact into the Gulf of Mexico while the core Starship blasted further to space using its own engines.

But the booster exploded over the Gulf of Mexico shortly after detaching, a SpaceX webcast showed.

Meanwhile, the core Starship flew further toward space, but a few minutes later a company broadcaster said that SpaceX mission control suddenly lost contact with the vehicle.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial launch sites, confirmed a mishap occurred that “resulted in a loss of the vehicle,” adding no injuries or property damage have been reported.

The agency said it will oversee a SpaceX-led investigation into the testing failure and will need to approve SpaceX’s plan to prevent it from happening again.

“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary,” the company said.

NASA, SpaceX’s primary customer, has a considerable stake in the success of Starship, which the U.S. space agency is counting on to play a central role in its human spaceflight program, Artemis, successor to the Apollo missions of more than a half century ago that put astronauts on the moon for the first time.

During its April 20 test flight, the spacecraft self destructed less than four minutes into a planned 90-minute flight that flight went awry from the start, with some engines failing at lift-off.

The Starship and Super Heavy Booster combination is by far the largest rocket ever flown, with both stages designed to be reusable. When development is complete, it will be capable of lifting up to 150 tons of cargo to low-Earth orbit.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.