SpaceX performed a static fire test of its latest Starship prototype this week, but not all went as planned.
This was the third static fire test of the SN8 prototype, in which the rocket is fueled as if it were to be launched, then fires its engines for a few seconds which remains attached to the ground. But this time the test experienced some issues. As the vehicle fired its engines, some kind of material could be seen dripping from the base of the prototype, as reported by space.com. This is not a normal part of the test and indicates that something was going wrong.
Fortunately, the prototype was not destroyed in the test (as has happened before), but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that there were issues.
“We lost vehicle pneumatics,” Musk said on Twitter. “Reason unknown at present. Liquid oxygen header tank pressure is rising. Hopefully triggers burst disk to relieve pressure, otherwise it’s going to pop the cork.”
He followed up with confirmation that the prototype was intact and seemed to be mostly functional, thanks to the burst disk — a safety device that releases pressure to prevent explosions. “Burst disk worked, so vehicle appears to be ok,” Musk said in a follow-up tweet. “We’ll have to swap out at least one of the engines.”
Observers also reported seeing sparks during the test, which Musk suggested could have been due to parts melting. “Maybe melted an engine preburner or fuel hot gas manifold. Whatever it is caused pneumatics loss,” he wrote in response to a query about the sparks. He went on to say that this was a problem that needed work at the design level: “We need to design out this problem.”
The Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation rocket which is intended to carry supplies and crew to the moon and eventually to Mars. As part of the design and testing process, SpaceX has built a number of prototypes of increasing complexity. The prototype in question, the SN8, is the first to have three Raptor engines as previous prototypes have had just one.
One static fire testing has been completed, the next phase is hop testing in which the prototype fires its engines and hovers in the air for a period of seconds.
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