SpaceX's prototype Starship Mk1 encountered a failure during testing in Texas on November 20. The prototype was undergoing cryogenic testing - a procedure in which parts or components are tested for durability and stability under extremely cold conditions - when the topmost part of the prototype blew up. Luckily, since these tests are often done in grounded, controlled environments, there were no injuries reported.
In an emailed statement, SpaceX said the following:
"The purpose of today's test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected. There were no injuries, nor is this a serious setback."
Observers quickly scrambled to ask if this would push the Mk1, and the whole Starship project, back and possibly be late with their 2021 deadline. Elon Musk, in a tweet, however, clarified that they won't be revisiting or repairing the Mk1 design and would instead be moving on to the Mk3.
The Mk1 was revealed to the public last September. It served as the backdrop for Musk's annual update on Starship, SpaceX next-generation personnel transportation system. The system consists of two parts: The manned module, also known as Starship, and the rocket is known as Super Heavy. Both are designed to be reusable to cut costs and redeployment time.
The Mk1 was supposed to do test flights to altitudes of up to 12 miles (20 kilometers). However, with the recent event, this no longer seems to be the case. A similar prototype, the Mk2, is already under construction in Florida and is expected to be tested soon. The Mk1 and the Mk2 are equipped with 3 of SpaceX's Raptor engine. Super Heavy, the large rocket designed to take Starship into Earth's low orbit, is equipped with 37.
In an earlier statement, referring to the Mk1, SpaceX said: "The decision had already been made not to fly this test article, and the team is focused on the Mk3 builds, which are designed for orbit."
It is unknown whether or not the Mk2 will also be grounded and only be tested on the ground.
SpaceX, instead, is moving its orbital launch testing to the Mk3. The prototype is expected to be finished in about three months with testing to be right after. SpaceX expects the Mk3 to be the final prototype before they start sending the first batch of commercial Starships into orbit. The first batch of Starship is expected to launch in 2021 servicing commercial satellite payload. By 2022, SpaceX expects Starship to run deliveries to the surface of the moon through their contract with NASA, in support of the national agency's Project Artemis.