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SpaceX's Starship SN1 prototype appears to burst during pressure test

SpaceX's new Starship prototype appeared to burst during a pressure test late Friday (Feb. 28), rupturing under the glare of flood lights and mist at the company's south Texas facility. 

The Starship SN1 prototype, which SpaceX moved to a launchpad near its Boca Chica, Texas, assembly site earlier this week, blew apart during a liquid nitrogen pressure test according to a video captured by SPadre.com

A separate video posted by NASASpaceflight.com member BocaChicaGal clearly shows the Starship SN1's midsection buckle during the test, then shoot upward before crashing back to the ground. 

Space.com has reached out to SpaceX for details of Friday's test. This story will be updated as more information is available. 

Video: Watch SpaceX roll out its Starship SN1 for tests
Related:
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy rocket in pictures

Starship SN1 is a test article for SpaceX's planned Starship and Super Heavy megarocket, a massive, reusable vertical launch-vertical landing system designed to fly deep-space missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. 

SN1, which resembles a gleaming, stainless steel silo, is the first of a series of test articles SpaceX plans to build and test over time in order to fine-tune the systems needed to make a fully functional Starship. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has hinted that many of these prototypes will be needed to perfect the Starship vehicle. 

"We're now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0," Musk wrote on Twitter on Dec. 27.

Musk unveiled the first full-size Starship prototype, called the Starship Mk1, in September 2019. That vehicle blew its top during cryogenic testing.

Musk first announced plans for SpaceX's Starship launch system in 2016. The company refined the design over subsequent years into a towering, 387-foot-tall (118 meters) spacecraft and booster that can carry up to 100 people into deep space. 

SpaceX has already signed one customer — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — for a trip around the moon on a Starship vehicle in 2023.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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  • Anonymous010
    "Appeared" to? Come on, guys, this isn't a court of law where nothing actually happened until there's a jury verdict. The video speaks for itself - that prototype is done. It's a shame, but it's not really surprising. When Musk unveiled it for the first time, it didn't look good - it already had dents in several places and the welding job didn't look professional.
    Reply
  • Deryk Houston
    It's quite possible that this happened because it was only a "Test". It very likely was pushed to the breaking point deliberately. I'm sure this would lead to some interesting and useful data... as has been done before for collecting data. I know that if I was testing something, I'd sure like to know if I just "squeezed" past the thresh-hold of safety or if it passed by a wide margin.....especially if it was me who was going to be putting my backside into that rocket seat:)
    Reply
  • ChrisA
    SpaceX is zero for two on these pressure tests. The Mk1 blew up and now SN1 blows up. Neither was intentional. One does NOT test a reusable tank to failure on the first test. A reasonable approach is to sneak up on the limit and go a little more each time.

    My total guess on the root cause is that SpaceX is pioneering a cheap manufacturing method where they just hand weld stainless steel and it is not working well for them Slight imperfections are going to be a problem. Apparently this process they used is hard to inspect for quality

    I can't believe this is a miscalculation by the engineers. It has to be a manufacturing quality problem.
    Reply
  • Deryk Houston
    ChrisA said:
    SpaceX is zero for two on these pressure tests. The Mk1 blew up and now SN1 blows up. Neither was intentional. One does NOT test a reusable tank to failure on the first test. A reasonable approach is to sneak up on the limit and go a little more each time.

    My total guess on the root cause is that SpaceX is pioneering a cheap manufacturing method where they just hand weld stainless steel and it is not working well for them Slight imperfections are going to be a problem. Apparently this process they used is hard to inspect for quality

    I can't believe this is a miscalculation by the engineers. It has to be a manufacturing quality problem.
    Reply
  • Deryk Houston
    Space X actually did say this about .......the Mk1..... “The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected."
    So my guess still holds that this test did the same.
    Testing to the max. It's very interesting and I'm sure they will learn a lot and make the changes that are needed to make it perfect.
    Reply