"So … how was your night?" Elon Musk asked his 31.6 million Twitter followers Monday morning. For the SpaceX CEO, the answer was quite explosive.
A video, which Musk shared as part of his post, shows SpaceX testing one of its Starship prototypes at the Boca Chica facility in Texas. The video, captured by Twitter user "bocachicagal" Friday evening, shows an early version of the Mars-bound rocket undertaking a super-cold cryo proof test before launching into the air.
"It’s fine, we’ll just buff it out," Musk joked on Twitter. "Where’s Flextape when you need it!?"
The team will be hoping to find some Flextape soon – or some other solution to their engineering problem – as SpaceX has a tight schedule coming up for Starship development. The company's stainless steel rocket, which measures nearly 400 feet, is expected to complete an orbital flight sometime this year. This would pave the way for a satellite launch possibly as soon as 2021, a manned trip around the moon in 2023, and the first steps toward what is likely SpaceX's most ambitious target: building a city on Mars, and establishing a base for multi-planetary travel, as early as 2050.
Although it seems like a catastrophic failure, evidence suggests SpaceX may be already moving on from this prototype's design. The team has previously encountered issues during the testing phase, as it applies pressure to its prototypes and tweaks its designs. Musk unveiled the first full-size prototype for the Starship back in September 2019, and since then teams in Texas and Florida have been working on building the collection and refining its construction capabilities.
In the case of the prototype above, SpaceX may have already improved on the design. The prototype is known as "SN1," the first in a new series of prototypes expected to offer minor design tweaks until around "SN20." But Musk suggested on February 25 that "SN2" would solve an expected issue with "SN1"'s design anyway:
SN2 tank integration starts this week with much less circumferential pucker. Thanks Fronius!
We had the wrong settings! To make the welds super flat & strong, we’re building a heavy duty, custom planisher, but just having the right settings is a major improvement.
On Monday, Musk claimed that "SN2" would undergo tests in a few days. This suggests the team plans to move on from the "SN1" incident and onto the refined design as soon as possible.
We’re stripping SN2 to bare minimum to test the thrust puck to dome weld under pressure, first with water, then at cryo. Hopefully, ready to test in a few days.
SpaceX's steel capabilities have gradually improved over time. At the September 2019 presentation, Musk outlined the team's goal to take steel directly from the mill and curve it to the correct nine-meter diameter instead of using separate squares. A small test tank pictured in January 2020 showed this new construction in action.
But the team has experienced a number of explosions in testing since its first prototype unveiling. The original "Mk.1" Starship unveiled in September exploded two months later. Musk stated at the time that "Mk.1" was useful as a "manufacturing pathfinder" but the team would rapidly move on.
The team focused on smaller dome constructions for later pressure tests. A test tank on January 10 made it to 7.1 bar before collapsing in on itself. Later that month SpaceX reached 7.5 bar. A few days later SpaceX reached 8.5 bar at cryogenic temperatures, reaching the level of pressure Musk claims is enough for human spaceflight.
As SpaceX continues to work toward its Mars city goal, expect more impressive footage as it hosts more tests.