— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 20, 2019
Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.
SpaceX’s full-size Mk1 prototype of its next-generation reusable transportation system quite literally blew its top during a ground test in Texas on Wednesday, sending the upper part of the spacecraft high into the sky.
The dramatic incident occurred shortly before 3.30 p.m. at SpaceX’s test site in Boca Chica and was caught by a webcam streaming from South Padre Island a short distance away. There have been no reports of any injuries.
The commercial space company, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, was conducting a cryogenic pressure test ahead of what was hoped to have been Starship’s first suborbital test flight in the coming months. That plan will now be reviewed.
In a tweet posted by Musk shortly after the explosion, the CEO suggested the SpaceX team would build a more advanced prototype of Starship rather than rebuild the current version damaged in the accident.
Absolutely, but to move to Mk3 design. This had some value as a manufacturing pathfinder, but flight design is quite different.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2019
SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket is a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to the moon, and one day Mars.
Unveiled in September 2018, the Starship spacecraft is made with chromium-nickel stainless steel rocket and, sans Super Heavy, stands at a height of 50 meters (164 feet). The Super Heavy booster is powered by 37 Raptor engines, while Starship is powered by 6.
According to SpaceX, the Starship system will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit.
Wednesday’s setback comes just a few days after NASA announced it had partnered with SpaceX, as well as a number of other commercial space companies, to help it achieve its ambition of sending the first woman and next man and to the moon by 2024, with unmanned cargo flights expected to start in 2021. It’s too early to say how Wednesday’s incident will affect SpaceX’s chances of being a part of those early missions, but rest assured the team will be doing everything it can to get back on track.
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