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Boom! SpaceX pops huge Starship SN7 test tank on purpose in pressure test (videos)

SpaceX pushed a massive tank for its latest Starship prototype beyond its limits Tuesday (June 23) in an intentionally explosive test in South Texas.

The Starship SN7 prototype tank ruptured during a pressure test at SpaceX's Boca Chica proving grounds, the second in just over a week for the spacecraft component. But where a June 15 test resulted in a leak, Tuesday's test was a bit more dramatic. 

Video cameras from the South Padre Island tourism site Spadre.com and NASASpaceflight.com watched as SpaceX filled the tank with super-chilled liquid nitrogen to test its ability to hold super-cold propellant during an actual launch. The tank eventually reached its limit and burst, spewing out billowing white nitrogen clouds. 

A close up from NASASpaceflight.com on Twitter , captured by Starship watcher Mary (also know as BocaChicaGal), shows the moment the tank ruptured. The tank pops and collapses, sinking into the nitrogen plumes. 

SpaceX has been performing a series of tests at Boca Chica to refine its designs for the stainless steel Starship, which the company aims to use for eventual Mars flights and moon landings. Last month, NASA picked Starship as one of three commercial moon lander designs that could land the agency's Artemis astronauts to the moon. 

Some of SpaceX's Starship tests have been successful, such as a series of ground-based rocket engine tests and the brief 2019 flight of an early Starship prototype called Starhopper. Others, not so much. 

White clouds of super-chilled nitrogen erupt from SpaceX's Starship SN7 tank during an intentional burst pressure test at the company's facility near Boca Chica, Texas on June 23, 2020. (Image credit: SPadre Cam/SPadre.com)

On May 29, SpaceX's SN4 Starship prototype exploded shortly after completing a test of its Raptor rocket engine . 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the company will learn from each Starship test to improve future designs. Last week's test of the SN7 Starship tank, which leaked but did not explode, was a promising sign, Musk said on June 15. The company is shifting from 301 stainless steel to 304L, he has said.

"Tank didn't burst, but leaked at 7.6 bar. This is a good result & supports idea of 304L stainless [steel] being better than 301," Musk tweeted wrote on Twitter, adding that the tank would eventually be used in a destructive test. "We're developing our own alloy to take this even further. Leak before burst is highly desirable."

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

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  • Darkforce
    it might be better to use 316L steel insted ..it is stronger
    Reply
  • Bruce Perens K6BP
    Darkforce, what about its cryogenic properties? It's holding liquid oxygen in a potentially close to absolute zero environment, and of course it can also get hot in the sun - so hot outside and very cold inside. I heard that SpaceX has formulated their own variant of 314, which they will eventually use - it's more expensive than off-the-shelf so not used in this round of testing.
    Reply