SpaceX has lost another Starship prototype, this one destroyed during a cryogenic pressure test early Friday morning. Video from the test site shows the mid-section of the prototype buckling and collapsing during the procedure.
The video, captured by YouTube channel NasaSpaceflight, shows footage from the SN3 prototype test at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
SpaceX was conducting a cryo pressure test, according to Ars Technica, in which chilled liquid nitrogen was loaded into the rocket’s systems to simulate the cold environmental conditions of deep space. The SN3 had previously passed a pressure test at ambient temperatures, but the rocket collapsed during Friday’s test.
“We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter.
This rocket failure comes one month after a previous Starship prototype imploded during a similar pressure test.
That prototype was the SN1, and it also collapsed during a liquid nitrogen pressure test due to what appeared to be structural issues with the tank holding the pressurized nitrogen.
Another prototype, the Starship Mk1, blew its top during a ground test last year, with dramatic footage showing the upper part of the spacecraft being tossed high into the air.
No one said that building a spacecraft was easy. So the SpaceX team is making constant adjustments to the Starship design, including a recent announcement that they will use a different kind of stainless steel in future prototypes. The current prototypes are made of a stainless steel alloy called 301, which has been used in the aerospace industry for decades. Musk expressed the desire to switch over to a newer type of alloy for prototypes constructed in the future.
SpaceX has big plans for the Starship, hoping that it will be the rocket that eventually carries passengers to Mars. Musk is aiming to produce Starships on a significant scale as well, aiming to produce one Starship rocket every 72 hours at SpaceX’s new factory in Texas. The company has previously said that Starships may even be ready for use by 2021, though it isn’t yet known whether the global outbreak of coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, might affect this planned timeline.
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