Lifting off with record-breaking thrust, SpaceX’s Starship rocket was expected to produce an impressive launch plume and possibly cause damage to the launch pad. Early footage from the scene in Boca Chica, Texas, suggests the surrounding area did indeed take some damage—including an unfortunate minivan that got clobbered by a large rock.
The dramatic footage comes from LabPadre’s VR cam, which the popular YouTube channel placed uncomfortably close to the 469-foot-tall (142-meter) launch and catch tower. Cameras this close to the launch tower are controlled remotely, as everyone must leave the area prior to launch for safety reasons. If anyone doubted this rule before, these new videos should smarten them up.
Starship blasted off today at 9:33 a.m. ET on its inaugural flight. At least three of the booster’s 33 Raptor 2 engines failed to ignite at liftoff, but with each of the others producing 500,000 pounds of force, the remaining 30 engines still managed to produce a hideous—and record-breaking—amount of lifting power. By my estimate, that’s 15 million pounds of force, but we await SpaceX’s official confirmation. By comparison, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket blasted off in November 2022 with 8.8 million pounds of thrust.
SpaceX was forced to destroy Starship at the 3:59 mark of the mission, the result of the rocket entering into a hopeless tumble. The Elon Musk-led company said that, at a bare minimum, it wanted to see the rocket take flight and not cause too much damage to the launch site. It’s still too early to tell, but the acquired footage does point to some harm at the site—such as a gigantic crater that formed directly beneath the Orbital Launch Mount.
Ground crews will now scour the area in search of possible damage to the launch and catch tower and surrounding infrastructure, such as the nearby tank farm. Thankfully, SpaceX’s Starhopper—a test vehicle used in the development of Starship—appears to have survived the launch; the retired Starhopper continues to stand right next to the launch pad.
Despite the destruction of the two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, SpaceX is casting the maiden flight in a positive light. “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 multi-planetary,” the company tweeted.
Want to know more about Elon Musk’s space venture? Check out our full coverage of SpaceX’s Starship megarocket and the SpaceX Starlink internet satellite megaconstellation. And for more spaceflight in your life, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.