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Starship Prototype Mk1 Fails During Propellant Tank Loading Test: Onwards to Mk3

Accepted submission by takyon at 2019-11-21 00:18:18 from the off-the-top dept.

SpaceX Starship Mk. 1 fails during cryogenic loading test []

SpaceX's first full-scale Starship prototype – [Mark 1 (Mk. 1)] – has experienced a major failure at its Boca Chica test site in southern Texas. The failure occurred late in the afternoon on Wednesday, midway through a test of the vehicle's propellant tanks.

The Mk. 1 Starship – which was shown off to the world in September as part of SpaceX's and Elon Musk's presentation of the design changes to the Starship system was to fly the first 20 km test flight of the program in the coming weeks.

The main event of today, the Mk. 1 Starship's first cryogenic loading test, involved filling the methane and oxygen tanks with a cryogenic liquid.

During the test, the top bulkhead of the vehicle ruptured and was ejected away from the site, followed by a large cloud of vapors and cryogenic liquid from the tank.

There will be no attempt to salvage Starship [] Mk1, with focus instead shifting to Mk3 [] (in Texas) and Mk2 (in Florida):

Minutes after the anomaly was broadcast on several unofficial livestreams of SpaceX's Boca Chica facilities, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged Starship Mk1's failure in a tweet, telegraphing a general lack of worry. Of note, Musk indicated that Mk1 was valuable mainly as a manufacturing pathfinder, entirely believable but also partially contradicting his September 2019 presentation, in which he pretty clearly stated that Mk1 would soon be launched to ~20 km to demonstrate Starship's exotic new skydiver landing strategy.

Musk says that instead of repairing Starship Mk1, SpaceX's Boca Chica team will move directly to Starship Mk3, a significantly more advanced design that has benefitted from the numerous lessons learned from building and flying Starhopper and fabricating Starship Mk1. The first Starship Mk3 ring appears to have already been prepared, but SpaceX's South Texas focus has clearly been almost entirely on preparing Starship Mk1 for wet dress rehearsal, static fire, and flight tests. After today's failure, it sounds like Mk1 will most likely be retired early and replaced as soon as possible by Mk3.

Above all else, the most important takeaway from today's Starship Mk1 anomaly is that the vehicle was a very early prototype and SpaceX likely wants to have vehicle failures occur on the ground or in-flight. As long as no humans are at risk, pushing Starship to failure (or suffering unplanned failures like today's) can only serve to benefit and improve the vehicle's design, especially when the failed hardware can be recovered intact (ish) and carefully analyzed.

Previously: SpaceX Provides Update on Starship with Assembled Prototype as the Backdrop []

Related: The SpaceX Starship Pushback: NASA Administrator's Scolding and More []
SpaceX's Starship Can Launch 400 Starlink Satellites at Once []
Artemis Program Requires More Cash to Reach Moon by 2024; SLS Could Cost 1,000x More Than Starship []

Original Submission