The world’s largest and most powerful rocket, SpaceX‘s Starship, caused several damages during its inaugural launch. The huge vehicle took off from SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20 at 9:33 a.m. EDT. The Starship flew for just over four minutes, but then the automated systems initiated the destructive termination procedure and the rocket exploded.
Debris thrown for kilometers
The success of the Starship lies in the company’s development procedures. SpaceX’s significant and striking progress has always come through the destruction of its prototype vehicles in the name of the overall progress of the project. At the beginning of SpaceX’s adventure, CEO Elon Musk was often photographed walking among fields of debris from destroyed rockets.
On this occasion, some launch debris flew for kilometers, causing concern for some local residents. Among them, a citizen of Port Isabel, just 10km north of Starbase, described the noise and debris created by the launch as “really terrifying”. Other residents of the same town reported broken windows, and some described the event as “like a mini earthquake”. Journalist Pablo De La Rosa also published a detailed article (ref.) on the pieces of the Starship raining down on residents.
Fortunately, in a post on Facebook (ref.), the city of Port Isabel confirms that the debris launch from the spacecraft, which covered the cars and homes of local people, did not pose a health risk. In most cases, it was actually sand and dust raised into the air and launched for kilometers in every direction by the rocket’s takeoff.
Damage at the launch site
The most significant damage was obviously concentrated on SpaceX’s private property. In the Starship launch area, 33 engines of the main booster dug a huge crater, causing serious damages to the concrete and surrounding structures. Reinforced concrete debris large enough to crush a car lifted up tens of meters in every direction. On the contrary, the damage to the tower was minor, but the entire launch complex will urgently need some significant reconstruction, adaptation, and cleaning works.
In addition to Starbase, Starship debris scattered for kilometers over the Gulf of Mexico. In one of SpaceX’s launch videos shared on Twitter (ref.), large pieces of debris were seen splashing into the ocean next to the launch pad just seconds after takeoff. Moreover, the explosion, after four minutes of flight, was detected on many Doppler radar systems.
Similar to NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX’s Starbase complex is located in a national wildlife refuge that hosts over 2,500 different species. Faunal areas like this are perfect for spaceport activities, as rocket launches require ample space to meet safety requirements. In addition, measures taken during launches largely mitigate any negative effects on local flora and fauna.
With an entire city covered in launch debris, some residents are wondering about the impact the Starship project will have on the area. Even before the enormous rocket took off, a group of Rio Grande Valley residents released a document opposing SpaceX’s activities in the area. The citizens believe that SpaceX is “destroying wildlife refuges and the sacred lands of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe of Texas, threatening the communities of the Rio Grande Valley”.
Despite growing concerns, Elon Musk has stated that SpaceX aims to launch another Starship within the next two months. However, it seems evident from the initial analyses that in the next test, the company will correct the procedure and systems to avoid further damage.