SpaceX’s next generation rocket, known as the Starship, may one day ferry passengers and cargo to and from distant locations like the Moon and Mars. But you can’t get to deep space without breaking a few eggs (or spaceships, as the case may be).
During pressure testing operations on Wednesday, a test version of the Starship could be seen occasionally venting gas throughout most of the day. By the afternoon it seems that the pressure inside had become too much. In dramatic footage captured by a number of space enthusiasts that had set up live streams of the tests, the Starship can be seen erupting gasses and then blowing its top off.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 20, 2019
SpaceX indicated that while the test was not meant to end in such a dramatic fashion, they don’t see the failure as a significant issue.
“The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected,” a spokesperson for SpaceX told The Verge. “There were no injuries, nor is this a serious setback.”
The goal of the Starship program is not just to build a ship that’s capable of long duration spaceflight and of carrying enough cargo to support a manned Mars expedition (as though that weren’t daunting enough); the real value in SpaceX’s Starship is meant to be in its reusability.
SpaceX has dramatically reduced the costs associated with launches to low earth orbit thanks to their reusable rocket stages. They intend to carry that cost-saving design over into their deep space endeavors. The Starship would technically serve as the second stage of a larger rocket when traveling to Mars; but ultimately SpaceX intends to reuse both stages, with the first stage returning to earth under a controlled descent, not unlike their current rockets.
SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk were both uncharacteristically quiet about the incident on social media, with SpaceX’s only tweet on Wednesday (technically a re-tweet) showing off a recent successful test of the in-flight abort system for their crewed Dragon Capsule — a vessel expected to ferry humans into space far sooner than the Starship program.
The Crew Dragon capsule already made its first voyage into space earlier this year, and is expected to make its first manned voyage sometime in the first quarter of next year.
The tests will help validate the launch escape system for the in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of @NASA‘s Commercial Crew Program.
— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) November 20, 2019