SpaceX's Starship rocket explodes shortly after take-off

Starship, the largest rocket ever built, exploded shortly after take-off on Thursday afternoon – but SpaceX still hailed the mission a success.

The rocket, which stands at 120m tall – the same height as the London Eye wheel – blasted off at 2.33pm BST from SpaceX’s Texas HQ. Clearing the launchpad and tower, its 33 engines thrust the rocket skyward at hundreds of miles an hour.

At around three minutes into the mission the rocket flipped into a horizontal position ready to separate the space-bound Starship craft from the Super Heavy booster rocket, but appeared to fall into a spin. After failing to separate, the rocket exploded in spectacular fashion against a clear blue sky – or, as SpaceX’s principal integration engineer John Insprucker called it, a ‘rapid unscheduled disassembly’.

However, SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk were clear that they were not expecting the mission to be completed. On Sunday night Mr Musk said expecting everything to go according to plan would be ‘insane’.

Instead the launch has been seen as an opportunity to test the countdown and moment of lift-off itself, with anything else a bonus.

‘If we get far enough away from the launch pad before something goes wrong, then I would consider that a success,’ Mr Musk said on Sunday. ‘Just don’t blow up the pad.’

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Kate Tice, SpaceX quality systems engineering manager and broadcast host, said: ‘Success is anything we learn that helps with future builds of Starship – if we clear the pad that’s a win.’

Hundreds of SpaceX employees gathered to watch the launch – cheering as loudly when Starship exploded as when it took off.

Crowds had also gathered along the Texan coast to watch lift-off, and while not witnessing quite the historic event they’d hoped, were still treated to quite the show.

A first launch attempt on Monday was postponed due to a frozen valve during fuelling, but the team continued the countdown until T minus 40 seconds, using the opportunity as a ‘wet dress rehearsal’.

Had the mission gone to plan, the aim was for the second stage, the Starship craft, to achieve orbit, travelling at an altitude of around 150miles above Earth before splashing down in the Pacific just north of Hawaii after around 90 minutes.

The Super Heavy rocket was due to return to the Gulf of Mexico, practising a vertical landing over the water as a proof of concept before dropping into the sea.

Both parts of Starship are intended to be fully reusable as part of the company’s mission to offer fast-turnaround launches for satellites, and eventually for transporting humans to the Moon and beyond.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated shortly.

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