SN3, SpaceX’s third iteration in its Starship prototype roster, suffered a massive failure on April 2nd during testing at the Boca Chica testing facility in Texas, USA. The prototype, which started off on a good note, failed to clear the cyrogenic proof test. Cyrogenic proof testing is designed to replicate the pressures a spacecraft would normally undergo during space.
SpaceX’s history with the Starship protoype and its testing hasn’t been the best. But then, building and designing an entirely new spacecraft, that too in re-usable form, that too for a mission to Mars — well, that is too much to ask for to be successful in few attempts. The company’s first prototype, the Mk1, also met a rather similar fate, when it was destroyed during pressure testing of its fuel tank. The next prototype, the ‘SN1’ also succumbed to pressure testing in February.
For SN3, the testing initially started well, with the ship able to start normally. There were also no leaks present in its massive propellant tanks this time around. After a few hours of idling, SN3 began its first cryogenic proof test. The testing was briefly halted due to frozen valves in the ground support equipment (GSE). 6 hours later, SpaceX was successfully able to treat GSE valve issues, and testing resumed.
But then came the second cyrogenic test and that is when things started to look hazy. As seen in a video shared by Mary (@bocachicagal) on Youtube, SpaceX started loading Starship’s upper (LOX) tank with supercool liquid nitrogen. Considering that the body of Starship is all metal, the tank started to develop a visible coat of frost, a few hours after the liquid nitrogen was filled. And then the methane tank below started to crumble, a crumbling that started with a small dent and turned into a complete catastrophe. Watch for yourself in the video below:
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that the SN3 failure “may have been a test configuration mistake,” rather than an issue with the spacecraft itself. He further added that the company will review the data, and will only go for another testing post that review.
We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 3, 2020
A new prototype ‘SN4’ however, is on the verge of completion. The assembly has been going on for a while now, with the testing is most likely to take place in a few weeks. SN3 was also planned to conduct a test flight after the static tests, achieving a vertical elevation of 150 meters, but that will now be the agenda of the next prototype, the SN4.