JUNE 2, 2020– SpaceX’s Starship development program in South Texas seemed to be right on track until it met a swift (and explosive) halt last Friday.
Over a month ago, SpaceX reached a major milestone with its Starship development program. Teams in Boca Chica Texas performed a successful cryogenic pressure test of a full-scale Starship prototype, something that had only resulted in failure before.
Starship SN4, which completed this pressure test, quickly became one of SpaceX’s most successful Starship test articles since Starhopper last flew in the summer of 2019. It completed several static fires and various other engine tests.
SN4’s success then began to fade away. After attempting a third static fire, part of the vehicle’s bottom thrust section was consumed by flames. However, this incident only seemed to cause minimal damage, and Starship was put back online within a week.
The real setback came on Friday. About a minute after performing its second static fire since the fireball incident, Starship SN4 faced a catastrophic failure. Teams in Boca Chica attempted to test Starship’s ability to disconnect from the ground support equipment, as this would be required during the planned 150-meter hop test. This test failed and caused a huge cloud of propellant to leak out of Starship SN4. At some point, this cloud was ignited near the bottom of the vehicle and caused a violent explosion.
This failure resulted in the loss of the entire vehicle, as well as extensive damage to the test site which left the test stand beyond repair due to heat damage. But luckily for SpaceX, they were already working on constructing Starship SN5, Starship SN6, and a new test stand. Hopefully, SpaceX can get back on track withing the coming months and perform the 150-meter hop originally planned for Starship SN4.