SpaceX’s prototype Mars Starship topples over in heavy winds

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed Wednesday, January 23 in a tweet that high winds damaged a section of the company’s prototype Mars Starship. According to Musk, “50 miles per hour winds broke the mooring blocks” and blew over the fairing, the large nosecone at the top of the rocket. The damage to the nosecone section will take a few weeks to repair.

The accident happened overnight on Tuesday during a wind advisory for the Brownsville and Rio Grande Valley area. Wind gusts up to 45 mph were expected overnight Tuesday and into the morning Wednesday. According to images posted to NASASpaceFlight.com forum by Boca Chica Gal, the nosecone was laying on the ground after its unfortunate fall. According to Musk and photos of the crash, the nosecone, which was empty at the time, suffered the brunt of the fall, while the more critical fuel tanks survived the wind storm and its aftermath.

Formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), the test Starship craft is being built and tested at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility near the south Texas city of Brownsville. The space vehicle consists of the Super Heavy rocket booster and the Starship spacecraft which will carry cargo and people on crewed missions. Initially, Musk hopes to launch the vehicle on small short “hop” tests that will send the rocket to low altitudes and hopefully safely return it to earth. Musk originally planned to conduct these first test flights of the system in the next month, but these launches likely will be delayed because of the accident.

As SpaceX’s next-generation space vehicle, the Starship is being designed to transport cargo and people initially to orbit and then eventually to Mars. The spacecraft has undergone several changes throughout its development. Musk recently confirmed the vehicle would be constructed with stainless steel alloy instead of the carbon-fiber composites in the original blueprints. The company also has radically changed the design of the vehicle’s Raptor engines.

SpaceX hopes to launch its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022, and plans to devote the mission to the study of the environment and to putting down the early infrastructure for a future propellant depot and base on Mars. The next Mars flight, slated for 2014, will bring a crew to begin building the foundation for a future self-sustaining civilization on the Martian surface. SpaceX isn’t the only company gunning for Mars, there are plans for a myriad of missions from companies and government agencies worldwide.

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