SpaceX's Starship didn't immediately respond to a self-destruct command
Musk explained it exploded after a 40-second delay.
In a Twitter audio chat on Saturday, SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, shared more details about what went awry during the first fully integrated Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster launch in April. One of the biggest revelations: The self-destruct setting took 40 seconds to work — a seemingly short time, except when you're uncertain if the massive rocket you just launched will blow up before hitting land. To recap the day's events, the rocket and booster cleared the launch pad before being unable to separate from each other, flipping and, finally, blowing up. The automated command should have immediately caused an explosion, but tumbled around for a bit first, The New York Times reported.
In one of many spins on the day's failures, Musk claimed it was because "the vehicle’s structural margins appear to be better than we expected." While SpaceX previously said the only goal was that initial takeoff, a lot clearly went wrong.
The delayed self-destruction wasn't the only issue following the launch from SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica, Texas. After the eventual explosion, debris fell across about 385 acres of land made up of the SpaceX facility and Boca Chica State Park. The latter resulted in a 3.5-acre fire. Musk's response? "To the best of our knowledge there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment that we’re aware of."
The FAA has already announced it's investigating the events and will ground Starship until "determining that any system, process or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety." Even with all of that, Musk went so far as to call the launch "successful" and "maybe slightly exceeding my expectations."
In this case, success was clearing the launch pad and, apparently, learning lessons along the way. "The goal of these missions is just information," Musk said. "Like, we don’t have any payload or anything — it’s just to learn as much as possible."