SpaceX has been riding high lately with regards to the progression of its various projects. Unfortunately, the firm experienced a setback on Wednesday when its prototype Starship spacecraft burst apart during a ground test. Back in September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk claimed that the craft could be ready to fly within a few months.
Due to the failure of Wednesday’s test, that timeline will surely be altered. Fortunately, there were no injuries from the accident and SpaceX officials don’t believe that it will cause a significant delay for Starship. The company plans to eventually carry both passengers and cargo into Mars and deep space aboard the massive spacecraft.
The Starship test took place at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, facility to stress the pressure release systems of the towering craft. Throughout the early part of the afternoon, steam vented periodically. However, an explosion on the pad soon followed.
The incident sent plumes of gas and smoke into the sky and also launched pieces of debris upward. Several local space enthusiasts and reporters captured the explosion via live streams.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 20, 2019
While the video of Starship’s top blowing off might seem disconcerting, SpaceX isn’t overly worried about the accident. A spokesperson said, “The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize the systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected.”
Whether or not it was an expected occurrence or a mere possibility is less clear. However, either way, the outcome doesn’t look good as the company is chasing down an aggressive timeline for Starship’s full debut.
Change of Plans
Interestingly enough, the pressurization test on Wednesday had a very specific purpose. As such, the company doesn’t plan to move forward with the current craft’s design. Despite being the model that Musk showed off in September at the time of his lofty timeline claims, the one that exploded is still just a prototype.
Fortunately for SpaceX, the company has a backup plan. There is an updated model that will be used moving forward to conduct test flights and further ground evaluations. According to Musk, “This [the current prototype] had some value as a manufacturing pathfinder, but flight design is quite different.”
Considering the ambitious goals that the space firm has for its massive craft, that’s reassuring to some degree. Originally, Musk stated that Starship could be ready to start flying at low altitudes within a few months. He followed that up by claiming the ship could reach orbit in just six months.
With the latest setback in mind, that timeline will need to be adjusted. In all likelihood, Starship won’t be leaving the planet anytime in 2020. Prioritizing safety and accuracy for a spacecraft of this size is more important than doing things quickly. Though the waiting game is painful, people should be okay with that.