Known as a cryogenic proof test, SpaceX pressurised the rocket’s tanks with liquid nitrogen and a gas of some kind in an effort to verify its structural integrity and determine if it was safe to proceed to more risky tests.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on March 2, 2020

SpaceX’s newest Starship spacecraft prototype unintentionally lifted off and exploded during a critical test at the company’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

With thick fog blanketing the area, SpaceX carefully transported its second full-scale Starship prototype, standing 30m (100ft) tall and 9m (30 ft) wide, to the company’s launch and test pad.

After two days of outfitting the giant rocket tank with a few additional sensors and fully connecting it to ground systems (electricity, communications, and fluids), SpaceX kicked off the second cryogenic ‘proof’ test of an integrated Starship tank section, Telsarati reported.

An opaque layer of frost quickly developed on the ship’s mirror-smooth hull, effectively serving as a giant gauge for the liquid nitrogen pooling inside it. About an hour after faux-propellant (liquid nitrogen) loading began, Starship SN01’s liquid oxygen tank violently burst, causing the entirety of the vehicle’s 30-40 metric ton (65,000-90,000 lb) bulk to launch several dozen feet into the air.

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Stacked atop the oxygen tank, SN01’s methane tank, pressurised with nitrogen or oxygen gas, shot off like a house-sized bullet as the rest of the tank section impacted the ground, flying some 150-300 metres (500-1000 feet) from the pad.

Known as a cryogenic proof test, SpaceX pressurised the rocket’s tanks with liquid nitrogen and a gas of some kind in an effort to verify its structural integrity and determine if it was safe to proceed to more risky tests. According to CEO Elon Musk, Starship SN01 was actually meant to support a full wet dress rehearsal with liquid oxygen and methane, followed by a Raptor engine static fire test shortly thereafter.

This is the second time one of SpaceX’s rocket prototypes has exploded, with the first in November last year during a cryogenic pressure test.

SpaceX,

SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Building on the achievements of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX is working on a next generation of fully reusable launch vehicles that will be capable of carrying humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

SpaceX has yet to comment.