Rupture during SpaceX test spells end for Starship SN1 prototype

Space Science
SpaceX SN1 Starship

MYSTERY WIRE — Going into Friday night’s Starship SN1 test, SpaceX was on a roll. Three months of successes on the launchpad seemed to be putting some distance between Elon Musk’s company and its competitors for private contracts to provide services for NASA.

Starship SN1’s rupture during a pressure test reminded everyone that SpaceX isn’t immune to problems. In fact, when something goes wrong for SpaceX, it goes really wrong.

SN1, a Starship prototype for deep-space missions such as Mars, blew apart during a liquid nitrogen pressure test, toppling the stainless steel vehicle off its stand at the test facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

The failure was reminiscent of the Starship MK1 test in November. That prototype “blew its top” at the Boca Chica site. Elon Musk tweeted soon after that the company would move on to MK3.

And that’s Musk’s approach. He said he expects many prototypes before the company ever builds “Starship 1.0” — perhaps as many as 20 prototypes.

READ: SpaceX pushing iterative design process, accepting failure to go fast (Feb. 21, Ars Technica)

In the three months between the prototype problems, SpaceX has seen great success launching StarLink satellites, sending supplies to the International Space Station and successfully reusing hardware.

Boeing’s recent struggles include a decision to back out of the “Phantom Express” military space plane, a clock problem that cut short a Starliner mission and likely extended Starliner’s testing schedule with NASA, and uncertainty that came with a change in company leadership.

Blue Origins and Virgin Galactic have been active, but not on the scale of SpaceX or Boeing.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has declined to increase pressure on the private efforts, clearly indicating that NASA has no interest in accelerated schedules if they put lives at risk.

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