A Starship pressurization test conducted at a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas ended in dramatic fashion late Friday evening.
During late evening testing on February 28, several observers monitoring the development of Starship rockets at the facility captured footage of the SN1 prototype exploding on a test stand.
The SN1 prototype was undergoing pressurization testing during which the rocket’s propellant tanks are loaded with liquid nitrogen. The test is conducted to ensure the propellant tank is strong enough to withstand loading, launch and flight. In the case, it turned out not to be.
Although no official statement from SpaceX has been released, founder and CEO Elon Musk quote tweeted a video of the explosion several days later stating seemingly despondently, “So… how was your night?” Following the initial tweet, Musk added that the company would now shift focus to the development of the Starship SN2 prototype currently under construction.
SN1 is the second Starship prototype to be destroyed in a similar fashion. In November last year, the predecessor to SN1, designated Starship Mark 1 was undergoing similar testing. During propellant loading, the rocket’s bulkhead failed hurling part of the vehicle into the air. In response to the incident, SpaceX stated that the test was conducted to “pressurize systems to the max” adding that the failure had not been unexpected.
Despite the failures, SpaceX and Musk remain ambitious. In one of the tweets Musk posted following the SN1 post, the mercurial CEO explained that pressurization testing on SN2 would begin within days. He explained that teams would begin testing with water and only then move onto “cryo” (cryogenic propellant).
The development of Starship is a key element of SpaceX’s goal of building a colony on Mars. The vehicle will initially be used to carry key infrastructure and resources. Later, it will be used to ferry people from Earth to Mars to begin populating the Red Planet.