Strong Winds Hit Elon Musk's Starship Prototype and Down It Goes

By Tom McKay on at

Elon Musk’s prototype of the Starship spacecraft—the payload of a system formerly known as the Big “Falcon” Rocket, and the vessel that may one day shuttle SpaceX colonists to their likely deaths on Mars—fell over in strong winds at its facility in the US state of Texas on Tuesday.

The craft sustained serious damage to its fairing, photos show. According to the Verge, Musk tweeted that the Starship’s mooring blocks broke during 50 mile per hour winds and that the fairing will take weeks to repair, though its propellant tanks are fine.

The Starship spacecraft, a reusable second stage launch vehicle, is designed to launch from Earth on top of a large rocket booster called the Super Heavy.

However, Musk has characterised the project in Texas as involving “subsections of the Starship Mk I orbital design,” adding that it is not actually built to full height. Referred to as a “test hopper” by Musk and SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission and obtained by SpaceNews show the prototype is intended fly both low-altitude tests of no more than 1,640 feet (500 metres) and high-altitude tests of no more than 16,400 feet (5,000 metres).

As Popular Mechanics noted, the hypothetical finished craft will “sport a much sturdier skin needed to withstand the journey out of Earth’s atmosphere”—though Musk has taken the unusual step of building it out of a double-walled stainless steel alloy shell he told the magazine will not buckle, will withstand extreme temperatures, and use water or fuel as the “first-ever regenerative heat shield.” According to Ars Technica, Musk has also tweeted that the prototype’s three Raptor engines (seven on the finished craft and 31 on the Super Heavy booster) have been “radically redesigned” with materials from SpaceX’s “superalloy foundry.”

On 5 January, Musk tweeted that he was aiming for the first tests of the prototype in “four weeks, which probably means 8 weeks, due to unforeseen issues.” Presumably, blowing over in the Texas wind will set back his timetable a bit. [The Verge]

Featured image: Elon Musk (Twitter)