"This is a setback, and a dramatic one."
To realize its ambitious plans for sending up to 100 passengers to the Moon and Mars inside a massive Starship spacecraft, SpaceX is racing through prototypes.
During its fifth static fire today, the fourth Starship prototype, called SN4, erupted in a gigantic fireball around 2:50 pm Eastern time on Friday. Thanks to a live stream, courtesy of NASASpaceflight, you can watch the structure erupt into flames at SpaceX's Boca Chica testing facility.
— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 29, 2020
The fact that the early prototype even withstood five static fires is impressive, and signifies a huge leap forward in SpaceX's race to get Starship off the ground.
You Get Knocked Down
It's the latest in a series of fireballs. SN1 failed a cryogenic proof test in February and was destroyed, crumpling up like a soda can. While SN2 fixed SN1's failure, SN3 was also destroyed due to a test configuration error.
At first, SN4 appeared to pass its fifth static fire test, but minutes later, a thick cloud of gas could be seen leaking out of the structure. Not a minute later, the prototype rocket — and launch pad — was obliterated, leaving only wreckage. The exact cause is still unknown.
But You Get Up Again
Losing SN4 is a setback for the Elon Musk-led space company, but not an insurmountable one.
"SpaceX got a lot further with SN4 than previous vehicles, and SN5 seems about ready to go for testing," senior space editor at Ars Technica Eric Berger wrote in a tweet. "They also have begun working on a second launch stand in Boca Chica."
"So this is a setback, and a dramatic one," Berger added. "But it's a process."
More on Starship: SpaceX Wins Large NASA Contract for Starship Moon Missions