The top of SpaceX’s Mk1 Starship appears to have blown off during a pressure test of the prototype rocket. Livestream cameras set up by third parties to watch the spacecraft’s construction captured footage of the explosion.
The company’s CEO and founder Elon Musk downplayed the incident, replying to a Twitter comment about what this means for the spacecraft’s development by saying, “This had some value as a manufacturing pathfinder, but flight design is quite different.”
In an emailed statement, the company said, “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.”
Starship is the space company’s next-generation program for space exploration, which it intends to use to provide service to the Moon, Mars and possibly elsewhere. On a conference call organized by NASA earlier this week, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell stated that the company could land a Starship craft on the Moon as early as 2022. It’s not clear yet if this incident would impact that ambitious timeline, but the company’s emailed statement indicated that its Starship team is “focused on the Mk3 builds, which are designed for orbit.”
This isn’t the first time that SpaceX has experienced failures, either in testing or on the launch pad. It suffered a failure of a commercial Falcon 9 launch in 2016 as well as the failure of a test of its crewed Dragon spacecraft earlier this year. But the company tends to take such failures in stride, seeing them as part of the iterative process to improve its products.
For example, the company first successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2016, but not until after multiple failures that the company celebrated in a highlight reel called “How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster” on YouTube. That video has since been viewed over 14 million times.