SpaceX’s Starship rocket prototype suffered considerable damage after experiencing a major failure during scheduled pressurization testing. The Starship Mk-1 prototype partially burst apart during ground tests at the company’s test site in Boca Chica, Texas. Videos of the erupting plumes of gas and hardware pieces soaring into the sky were widely shared on social media.
Live streams set up by local space enthusiasts captured the failure in real time. The rocket was undergoing cryogenic testing, a standard test to see if the vehicle can hold up to extreme cold temperatures. Cryogenic propellants were being loaded into the rocket at the time of the eruption. Images showed the propellants dispersed across the facility in a huge cloud afterwards. There were no injuries reported.
In September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk disclosed many details about the vehicle’s engineering and its likely applications. The Starship was designed to be an all-purpose transportation system to ferry people and cargo off Earth. It is built to be reusable, with its booster making a controlled landing following a mission. NASA is currently considering Starship for use as a potential freighter for delivering cargo to the lunar surface.
After the eruption, Musk indicated on Twitter that SpaceX may no longer fly this particular prototype. Instead, the company conduct flight tests with a newer, more up-to-date model that the company planned to build. Development work is already being directed at another prototype, labelled the Mk-3. According to Musk, the Mk-3 vehicle, which is also capable of going into orbit, could be built much more quickly than the Mk-1.
SpaceX has experienced several public mishaps recently. Last April, its Dragon astronaut capsule exploded on the test stand in a dramatic fireball. Previously, the company lost a rocket that exploded before launch during fueling.