Musk hails ‘success’ after world’s biggest rocket lifts off – then explodes

Elon Musk is celebrating “success” after his giant SpaceX rocket blasted off on its maiden flight, but dramatically exploded in midair minutes later.

The world’s biggest rocket, Starship, launched an uncrewed test flight at the company’s test facility east of Brownsville, Texas.

But less than four minutes into the flight, it was seen tumbling out of control and blowing up with flames and smoke.

The two-stage rocket, standing taller than the Statue of Liberty at 120 metres, was aiming for a 90-minute debut flight just shy of earth’s orbit.

Live streaming of the lift-off showed it rising from the launch tower into the morning sky as the Super Heavy’s raptor engines roared to life in a ball of flame and billowing clouds of exhaust and water vapour.

The upper-stage Starship failed to separate as designed from the lower-stage Super Heavy.

The combined vehicle was seen flipping end over end before exploding.

The spacecraft reached a peak altitude of nearly 32 kilometres before its fiery disintegration.

Nevertheless, SpaceX officials on the webcast cheered the feat of getting the fully integrated Starship and booster rocket off the ground for the first time with a seemingly otherwise clean launch and declared the brief episode a successful test flight.

A throng of SpaceX workers shown during the webcast watching a livestream together while gathered at the company’s headquarters near Los Angeles cheered wildly as the rocket cleared the launch tower and again when it blew up in the sky.

SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker, who was one of the webcast commentators, said the test flight would provide a wealth of important data paving the way for the company to move ahead with additional tests.

Mr Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, said on Twitter that the next Starship test launch would be “in a few months”.

“Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship! Learned a lot for next test launch in a few months,” he tweeted.

Mr Musk, who purchased Twitter last year for $US44 billion ($65 billion), is also CEO of electric car maker Tesla.

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