Featured Image Source: @NASASpaceflight via Twitter/YouTube
SpaceX is designing and testing its next-generation spacecraft – Starship – at its South Texas facility located in Boca Chica Beach. The aerospace company has been working tirelessly day and night shifts to manufacture a production line of many stainless-steel Starships to test-out different features. The higher production and iteration rate, the faster the vehicle will be developed. Starship is being designed with the purpose to take humans back to the lunar surface and colonize Mars. NASA selected SpaceX to develop a Starship Lunar Lander under the agency’s Artemis program which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the moon. Though SpaceX does not want to settle on the moon, the company’s grand vision is to send a fleet of 1,000 Starships over the course of 20 years to build a sustainable city on the Red Planet.
The initial phase of developing a rocket from scratch comes with many challenges, including destructive tests. With every setback, engineers learn how to improve the spacecraft’s design. Teams have been manufacturing Starship prototypes for over a year, every test vehicle exploded or collapsed during testing. The latest test was on the fourth Starship prototype built this year referred to as SN4. Starship SN4 was a good candidate for a debut test flight after the craft passed a series of cryogenic pressure tests weeks ago. SN4 was expected to conduct a test flight of 150-meters above Boca Chica Beach. The Federal Aviation Administration granted the company permission yesterday to take the craft on a short test launch.
Yesterday, May 28, SpaceX ignited Starship SN4’s single Raptor engine, the test seemed as if it went well. Engineers proceeded to conduct another static-firing today, May 29, in which SN4 was grounded to a test stand at the launch pad and filled with propellant. Starship’s Raptor engines are powered by sub-chilled methane and liquid oxygen. During today’s test, the craft’s engine was ignited for a few seconds, suddenly there was a leak and the entire structure collapsed in an explosion. A Boca Chica village resident captured the explosive test on video, shown below.
Last year, SpaceX performed a successful 150-meter test flight of a scaled-down Starship prototype. This year, the company aims to replicate it with a larger prototype. The bright side, is that teams are almost done manufacturing the fifth Starship prototype – SN5. Which is expected to undergo the same series of tests SN4 went through, to hopefully take flight. Simultaneously, Starship SN6 is under construction just in case the next prototype tests go awry.
Mary (@BocaChicaGal) is OK. (She's a long way away, well away from even the roadblocks).— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 29, 2020
There is obvious damage to the mount and the flare stack (thankfully the methane venting is blowing away). Hopper looks OK.
Yes, pad needs repairing, but they have SN5 almost ready! pic.twitter.com/IYTBLdpaSF