SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Blows Its Top During Pressure Test

By George Dvorsky on at

The Mk1 Starship prototype is officially done following an explosive incident at SpaceX’s test site on Wednesday afternoon.

LabPadre/Maria Pointer (@bocachicamaria)/Youtube

The next-generation reusable rocket exploded on the test stand as it was being fuelled with liquid oxygen for a pressure test, reports Spaceflight Now. The incident happened yesterday (20 November 2019) at around 4:30 pm US Eastern time (9:30 pm GMT) at the Boca Chica test site in the US state of Texas. No injuries were reported.

LabPadre, a YouTube channel that provides a live feed of the Boca Chica test site, captured raw footage of the explosion, showing the top section of the rocket flying off into the sky and plummeting back to the ground.

As envisioned by SpaceX, Starship will be a two-in-one vehicle, serving as both the second stage of a reusable launch system (the first stage will be a Super Heavy) and as a stand-alone spacecraft. The rocket is designed to deliver people and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. Standing 50 metres (165 feet) tall, Starship will carry upwards of 100 passengers.

The retro-futuristic stainless steel Mk1 prototype will now be retired, according to an Elon Musk tweet.

In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, SpaceX shrugged off the incident.

“The purpose of today’s test was to pressurise systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected. There were no injuries, nor is this a serious setback,” the statement reads. “As Elon tweeted, Mk1 served as a valuable manufacturing pathfinder but flight design is quite different. The decision had already been made to not fly this test article and the team is focused on the Mk3 builds, which are designed for orbit.”

SpaceX didn’t offer more information, such as whether the incident will result in development delays, or if it will affect a recent claim made by SpaceX that Starship will be able to deliver cargo to the Moon by 2022. NASA recently added five companies to its vendor pool, including SpaceX, to assist with its Artemis program, which seeks to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

Dramatic failures like this are actually a good thing. It’s better that something bad happens now than during more sensitive future developmental stages. As SpaceX engineer David Giger has said, the company “was built on test, test, test, test, test” and the powers of iterative development. On to the next version of Starship!