The second test flight of SpaceX’s Starship was an eye-catching ride.
The massive Starship rocket blasted off on Saturday (November 18) for the second time ever, blasting off from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The rocket’s 400-foot (122 m) super-heavy booster exploded shortly after stage separation, while the Starship’s upper stage reached an altitude of 91 miles (148 km), well above 62 miles (100 km). The frontiers of space before it have also seen what SpaceX refers to as “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”
Despite the explosion of two parts of the vehicle, SpaceX considers the test flight a success. “All 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy Booster successfully started and, for the first time, completed a full burn during ascent,” SpaceX wrote in a recent article. Update the task.
While space travel enthusiasts and photographers around Boca Chica were pointing their cameras skyward to document the spectacle, Astronomy Live’s Scott Ferguson was watching from a much further distance using a different kind of instrument: a telescope. Observing from the village of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Ferguson captured a stunning view of the spacecraft’s upper stage as it exploded in suborbital space.
Related: SpaceX’s second spacecraft launch test looks stunning in these stunning photos and videos
Ferguson told Space.com via email how he captured these stunning shots.
“I’ve been planning this shot for the past two years,” he wrote. “I came up with the idea when I realized that the spacecraft had to fly close enough to the Florida Keys to be above the horizon during the second stage of burn. I wrote a program to track rocket launches that I used several times to photograph launches from Cape Canaveral, usually using a set of tracking Video-based or joystick-based tracking.
“I realized that the spacecraft would likely be launched from Boca Chica during the day, so I expanded my software’s capabilities by writing a predictive tracking feature that used trajectory predictions from the website FlightClub.io So the telescope tracks where the missile is expected to be even before it is visible. I’m still not sure if the spacecraft will reflect enough sunlight to be visible during the day from the Keys, but I decided it was worth the risk.
“On launch day, I called a friend who was watching the launch in person from Boca Chica, so he could pinpoint the moment of launch and I could synchronize the start of the tracking with that moment without any delay in the webcast. From the webcast. I was hoping the first leg of the flight would go smoothly.” No obstacles this time; IFT-1 [Starship’s first test flight, which launched on April 20] It never rose above the horizon for me in Florida, and it would only take 5 minutes of flight for the spacecraft to reach the horizon from the Keys. Minute after minute, I kept hearing reports that all the engines were still running in first stage.
“Then the hot display happened without a problem. My excitement continued to build. The first stage exploded. It was no problem for me; it did its job by sending the spacecraft on its way. Then as the spacecraft rose, my heart sank when I couldn’t see anything against the sky Blue… Just when I thought it was over, I saw a cloud suddenly appear in the search camera. I knew it had to be the spacecraft, so I quickly moved the telescope using the joystick to put it in the frame.
“There it was, spiraling out of control, spewing clouds of gas in multiple directions. I realized that the cloud I saw was probably the ride termination system destroying the car, and yet it seemed to me that the whole thing was still intact. I thought it was a ride termination system failure.” The flight began blowing it up, as had been the case with the IFT-1, and it was only after I returned home and reviewed the footage that I realized that only the forward nose section and front flaps were still relatively intact.
“SpaceX has since asked me if I would be willing to provide the video to them, and I have already sent them the still version of the footage. I am now completing the upload of the original raw file from the camera, so they can do their own analysis of the footage.”
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