Video Yet another of SpaceX's Starship prototypes, SN3, was left in pieces last night following tank testing.
After the initial optimism of the Starhopper flights in 2019, SpaceX has struggled with its tanks. The Mk1 was destroyed in a pressure test, SN1 also failed, and now SN3 – the stage planned to demonstrate Raptor-powered low-altitude flights – has also wilted under testing.
The collapse came a few short weeks after the successful testing of the SN2 prototype's tanks, giving rise to hopes that subsequent test articles would soon be flying.
For SN3 at least, it was not to be. Get your sad trombones out for the clip below...
In the video, captured by enthusiasts keeping watch on the company's Boca Chica facility, the stage appears to implode during the cryogenic test after some impressive venting was observed coming from the top. A test earlier in the day also showed the stage venting. Explaining the plumes of vapour, SpaceX boss Elon Musk said: "Some valves leaked at cryo temp. Fixing & will retest soon".
After the collapse, Musk pondered whether there might have been an error in the configuration of the test that caused the collapse. He added that more would be learned in the data review, due later today.
The Register has contacted SpaceX to get more information, and will update if the company responds.
The original plan had called for a static firing shortly after the test and a possible 150m test flight. That seems unlikely now, although the next prototype, SN4, which is destined to fly higher, is coming along nicely. Assuming it doesn't suffer the same fate as its unfortunate predecessors.
The implosion came shortly after SpaceX published what it calls the "Starship Users Guide" [PDF], which is really more of a brochure than a technical manual. In it, the company confirms that the vehicle is designed to transport more than 100 tons of cargo to the Moon or Mars. Or 100 people from Earth into Low Earth Orbit and onward. It also suggests that Starship could be able to replicate the Space Shuttle trick of capturing satellites in orbit and returning them to Earth.
Assuming SpaceX gets to the bottom of just why those tanks keep crumpling while on the ground. ®