SpaceX's Starship SN4 launch vehicle prototype explodes after static engine fire test

Pablo Tucker
May 30, 2020

A prototype of SpaceX's upcoming heavy-lift rocket, Starship, exploded on Friday during ground tests in south Texas as Elon Musk's space company pursued an aggressive development schedule to fly the launch vehicle for the first time.

SpaceX were carrying out fire tests of its methane Raptor engine as part of the Starship SN4 launch trial at the range in Boca Chica on Friday. Minutes following what was thought to be a successful test, the Starship prototype called Serial Number 4 exploded, reports CNBC.

While this Starship prototype is the latest and fourth one SpaceX has constructed, it's also the one that made it the furthest through tests - passing numerous crucial milestones.

Starship, a rocket standing 394 feet tall, is created to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo to the moon and Mars.

According to Ars Technica editor Eric Berger, the Starship SN4 prototype was in its fifth static fire test when there was an uncontrolled leak. It's now unclear if the test flights will move forward. SpaceX typically takes plenty of safety precautions when running these tests, including ensuring the area is well clear of any personnel or other individuals. That rocket system has already seen repeated success launching satellites and cargo to space, and is the culmination of years of development and testing. This is a completely separate endeavor from SpaceX's work on the Commercial Crew program, so that historic first test launch with astronauts on board should proceed either Saturday or Sunday as planned, depending on weather.

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