Featured Image Source: NASASpaceflight via YouTube
SpaceX is in the initial phase of developing a massive rocket-spaceship duo that will one day take humans to Mars. The company is currently manufacturing and testing Starship prototypes at their South Texas facility located in Boca Chica Beach. They plan to test at least 20 prototypes of Starship this year. SpaceX teams have been conducting tests on the first prototype referred to as SN1. This week the flight vehicle was transported to a launch pad in Texas that is approximately 2 miles away from the assembly facility down the road. Starship SN1 has been undergoing pre-flight preparations, these include making sure the stainless-steel vehicle could withstand the stresses of a future flight test. Its first flight would have been a 20 kilometers high above Boca Chica, but last night engineers conducted a pressure test and Starship SN1 was destroyed in an explosion caused by too much pressure. In the rocket-manufacturing industry explosions are common when developing a new craft. In order to figure out what is the best way to manufacture a space-ready starship, it is necessary to 'fail' because it offers insight towards developing a spacecraft that will withstand the high stresses of spaceflight. Stresses like, withstanding forces upon liftoff, space environment, also withstanding Earth's fiery atmosphere upon exit and reentry. So, pressurization tests are used to asses the stainless-steel structure, see if it has any leaks and if the structure will endure extreme pressure.
The cryogenic pressurization test was conducted with inert nitrogen, Starship SN1 released large clouds of white vapor until the stainless-steel cylindrical structure tank popped at about 10:00 p.m. CST (local time). The pressure was too much and SN1 exploded! SpaceX officials have not shared any details of the occurrence yet. Starship's propellant tank's need to be able to withstand highly pressurized propellant during flight, it appears the tank went through structural failure during the pressurization test which caused the entire structure to be destroyed. Residents from Boca Chica Beach shared video footage of the pressurize-until-explosion event, shown below.
Starship SN1's explosion will give engineers insight towards improving the flight vehicle. Construction of the next prototype Starship SN2 is underway. If the next pressurization test goes smoothly, SN2 will conduct the 20 kilometer test flight. Each prototype tested will take SpaceX closer towards conducting the first orbital flight. It is expected that Boca Chica teams will rapidly begin manufacturing more Starship prototypes to speed up the craft's development. The company has an ambitious timeline: they hope to launch satellites aboard Starship as early as 2021, followed by a cargo lunar mission for NASA by 2022, then launch their first private customer Yusaku Maezawa on a flight around the moon in the year 2023.
Good luck to SpaceX!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.