SpaceX blows the top off first Starship rocket in pressure testing ‘to the max’

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SpaceX was conducting a test of its first assembled Starship rocket on Wednesday in Texas when immense pressure burst the tank at the top of the spacecraft, sending pieces flying.

“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,” SpaceX said in a statement to CNBC.

Starship is a massive rocket that SpaceX is developing, with the goal of launching cargo and people to the moon and Mars. The rocket is designed to be reusable so SpaceX can launch and land it multiple times, like a commercial airplane. Starship’s shiny external appearance is because of the type of stainless steel that SpaceX is using to build the rocket.

“The best design decision on Starship is the use of 301 stainless steel, because of its strength during extreme temperatures,” Musk said in September.

Including the one that was damaged, the company has three of the Starship rockets under construction, with two being assembled simultaneously at a facility in Florida. But SpaceX was going to fly the first Starship in Texas to about 65,000 feet altitude this month, as CEO Elon Musk said in a September presentation. However, SpaceX said those plans changed recently.

“The decision had already been made to not fly this test article and the team is focused on the Mk3 builds, which are designed for orbit,” SpaceX said.

Following this Wednesday’s incident the company said first rocket, known as Mk1, “served as a valuable manufacturing pathfinder” but the “flight design is quite different.”

Neither SpaceX or Musk offered an update to the company’s development timeline for Starship after the incident. The company’s president Gwynne Shotwell said at a recent investor conference that SpaceX is aiming to land Starship on the moon by 2022.

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