In SpaceX’s preparation for its first orbital launch of a Starship and Super Heavy, a surprise fireball may have caused some damage.
Video of flames bursting out the bottom of the Super Heavy Booster 7 at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, facility Monday was posted to the social media accounts of NASASpaceflight.com saying, “Holy moly. Well, that was unexpected!.”
SpaceX founder Elon Musk chimed in on Twitter to say, “Yeah, actually not good. Team is assessing damage.”
He later stated that the company’s use of “cryogenic fuel is an added challenge, as it evaporates to create fuel-air explosion risk in a partially oxygen atmosphere like Earth. That said, we have a lot of sensors to detect this.”
He later tweeted that this issue was due to an engine spin start test.
“Going forward, we won’t do a spin start test with all 33 engines at once,” he said, and then noted the team would continue to assess damage today.
“Base of the vehicle seems OK by flashlight,” Musk said Monday night. “I was just out there about an hour ago. We shut down the pad for the night for safety. Will know more in the morning.”
The Booster 7 was on the launch pad with the purpose of eventually being mated with Starship 24, the 24th prototype of the next-generation rocket.
The company is aiming to launch the combo for the first time, which would make it the most powerful rocket to ever launch from Earth, generating more than 16 million pounds of thrust. That nearly doubles the power of NASA’s planned Artemis flights and more than doubles those of the Apollo missions.
Combined Starship and Super Heavy will stand 395 feet tall. Their first launch still needs Federal Aviation Administration approval.
SpaceX looks to continue flight tests of Starship from Texas, but is also building out launch facilities for the next-gen rocket at Kennedy Space Center, where it launches its current stable of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
To date, the company has flown prototype versions of Starship without the booster to about 6 miles altitude, and attempted landings back in Texas, sometimes with fiery results. Those used only three or fewer of the new, powerful Raptor engines.
The plan for the next test flight, though, is to launch the stacked version of Starship and Super Heavy, have them separate, return the booster to land on a SpaceX vessel 20 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico while Starship achieves orbit for least one trip around the Earth and then lands in the Pacific Ocean.
Immediate plans for Starship are for Starlink satellite delivery to add to the company’s growing constellation of internet satellites, as well as to develop a version to assist NASA in getting humans back on the moon by 2025. Also upcoming is a tourist flight to orbit the moon funded by a Japanese fashion tycoon who’s taking along several artists.
The main purpose for its development, though, is eventually to help create a self-sustaining colony on Mars.
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