- SpaceX’s SN4 spacecraft prototype burst into flames at the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
- The test vehicle had just completed its fifth static fire test.
- On Thursday, SpaceX received FAA approval to make a 150m jump with the vehicle. These plans are obviously in the air now.
At 1:49 p.m. EDT, SpaceX’s Starship prototype, SN4, detonated in a flame ball at the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The test vehicle, a prototype for Elon Musk’s moon and Mars-bound spacecraft, had just completed its fifth static fire test two minutes earlier.
NASASpaceFlight.com correspondent @BocaChicaGal caught the static fire and subsequent explosion on film during a live stream.
SN4 is a prototype for the company’s Starship rocket, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk hopes will take astronauts to the moon and Mars in the near future.
The static fire test, in which the engine fires while the rocket is strapped to the ground, seemed to go smoothly. SN4 had previously gone through four static fire tests, including one yesterday. This was the third test for the vehicle’s Raptor 20 engine. The company’s Raptor 18 engine was used in the first two static fire tests.
And then, two minutes later, a ball of flame broke out around the vehicle. The force of the explosion made debris fly through the air. There is no official Word from SpaceX about exactly what went wrong or whether someone was injured in the explosion.
SpaceX had just received FAA approval to perform suborbital flight tests on the Starship prototype. The FAA Office for Commercial Space Transport published the license on its website on May 28th. Several reports indicated that the tests may have been carried out as early as June 1st. The FAA has temporarily restricted the airspace over the Boca Chica facility for 7 years in the morning and 3:00 p.m. EDT on Monday.
Needless to say, these plans are now put on hold.
As they say, rocket technology is difficult. SpaceX lost its test vehicles MK1, SN1 and SN3 due to tank pressure tests. (The partially assembled SN2 has meanwhile passed its cryogenic test.) SN4 passed its tank pressure test on April 27 and was the first full-size prototype to pass the static fire phase of the test. Fortunately, the company has another prototype, the SN5, which is waiting in the starting blocks for its own test round.
This is a completely different program than SpaceX’s Commercial Crew program, which sends NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS tomorrow afternoon, depending on the weather, aboard the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule . Still, it doesn’t look good for Musk and the gang.
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