Another SpaceX Starship prototype bites the dust during pressure testing

Elon Musk says it may have been "a test configuration mistake."

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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SpaceX assembled the shiny pieces of its planned Starship orbital prototype in late 2019. This wasn't a launch-ready version, but it shows what the spacecraft will likely look like when it's finally ready for testing.


Cue the David Bowie and Queen soundtrack. SpaceX's Starship prototypes have had a rough time being under pressure lately, but that's the price of progress.

The shiny stainless steel SN3 (short for "Serial Number 3") prototype went through a cryogenic pressure test late Thursday night at SpaceX's Texas facility. It didn't make it out the other side. Time-lapse footage from SpaceX-watcher LabPadre shows SN3 crumpling.

Starship carries SpaceX's big dreams of one day reaching the moon and Mars with humans on board. 

LabPadre tweeted out a morning view of the aftermath where SN3 looks like a busted can.

The pressure test involved pumping liquid nitrogen into the vehicle. Space news website NASASpaceflight also shared a vivid video of the event.

Spaceflight innovation is challenging work and testing failures are common during development. SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted a possible explanation for the latest incident: "We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake."

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Earlier prototype Starships met similar fates recently. The Mk1 blew up in November and SN1 failed in February. It hasn't all been bad news. A Starship SN2 test tank passed a pressure test in March, and SpaceX has been rapidly building its prototypes. Another one will be along shortly.

Musk had hoped to use the SN3 version of Starship for a short test flight, but SpaceX will have to look to the SN4 iteration now.

Space fans dreaming of taking a Starship ride can pass the time perusing SpaceX's recently released Users Guide, which promises a future full of satellite payloads and human exploration off this rock. 

SpaceX will need to shepherd its Starship prototypes all the way through the testing process before we all start booking tickets. At the rate it's building vehicles, it may not be that far off in the future.

Elon Musk Shows Off the Shiny SpaceX Starship

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