SpaceX has been working on its Starship prototype in Boca Chica, Texas for the last several months. It even invited reporters to check out the shiny sci-fi rocket a few weeks back. At the time, CEO Elon Musk said the Starship prototype would make a high-altitude test flight by the end of the year, but that won’t be happening now. The rocket blew itself wide open during a pressure test Wednesday afternoon.
The Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation launch platform, which we previously knew as the BFR. The unit used in the latest test is the Starship Mk1, which was the first prototype built by the company. It also constructed a Mk2, but we haven’t heard anything about that one since it was transported to Cape Canaveral for additional testing. The Starship will eventually take over all SpaceX missions from the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, but that’s at least a few years out — maybe more, in light of the latest test failure.
Video feeds of the Boca Chica facility show the rocket sitting on the test stand, occasionally belching out puffs of vapor. Then, the top of the rocket ruptures unexpectedly, launching parts of the rocket high into the air.
Luckily for SpaceX, this was not an engine-related test. An explosion like the one suffered by the Dragon capsule earlier this year could have pointed to a problem with the rocket’s Raptor engines. Instead, this was simply a pressurization test, and the company is seeking to downplay its importance. The goal of this test was, apparently, to pressurize the rocket’s fuel system to maximum, according to SpaceX. “There were no injuries, nor is this a serious setback,” the company said in a statement.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 20, 2019
The company may be downplaying this situation, but just a few months ago, Musk was talking about flying this prototype to an altitude of about 12 miles (20 kilometers). Although, the company says that was never a sure thing. The current plan is to take what the company learned from this incident and improve the design of the upcoming Mk3 prototype. That one will be built from the start with orbital launch testing in mind. So, this may be the first Starship that does more than a short test hop.
When completed, the Starship and its Super Heavy launch stage will have enough power to send large cargo payloads and even people to distant destinations like the moon and Mars. However, NASA is only looking at the Starship as a cargo vessel right now.
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