A prototype of SpaceX’s next big rocket fell over and sustained damage in south Texas, thanks to high winds in the area. Images from SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas show part of the vehicle sideways on the ground and slightly crumpled. The damage from the mishap will take a few weeks to repair, according to CEO Elon Musk.
Since the holidays, SpaceX engineers in south Texas have been building a prototype of the company’s new Starship rocket. Formerly known as the BFR, the Starship is the next-generation vehicle that SpaceX is developing to transport cargo and people to orbit, as well as to the Moon, Mars, and maybe even beyond. The full system actually consists of two big components: a large rocket booster, named Super Heavy, which will launch a crew-carrying spacecraft — the Starship — into space.
Whoops. Starship Hopper nosecone has been blown over in high winds. NSF’s BocaChicaGal https://t.co/liIk970sm5 pic.twitter.com/6rgGtZmAE2— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 23, 2019
The Starship prototype has been coming together relatively quickly in Boca Chica, which is also the location of SpaceX’s future private launch site. On January 5th, Musk said that SpaceX was aiming to do the first test flights with the vehicle in four weeks, though eight weeks was probably more likely due to “unforeseen issues.” Well, one of those issues turned out to be wind. In a tweet, Musk said that gusts moving at 50 miles per hour broke the Starship’s mooring blocks, used to secure the vehicle to the ground. This caused the Starship’s fairing, the top half of the spacecraft, to fall over. Musk noted, however, that the actual propellant tanks needed for the prototype are fine.
The prototype that fell over isn’t an exact replica of what the finished Starship will look like. The test vehicle is slightly shorter than the final Starship design, and it will also have just three engines, while the final plans call for seven. Once the damage is repaired and the prototype is complete, the company wants to perform short “hop” tests with the vehicle. These tests entail igniting the vehicle’s engines and sending the rocket to low altitudes between 1,640 and 16,400 feet, before landing it upright back on Earth. The flights should be similar to the hop tests that SpaceX did with its Grasshopper prototype, meant to test out the technology needed for the Falcon 9’s landing system.
Good shot of @SpaceX Starship flight test vehicle being assembled in Boca Chica, Texas https://t.co/qUYDdZznBK— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 5, 2019
At the beginning of the vehicle’s construction, Musk revealed that various changes had been made to the Starship’s design. For the last few years, Musk has claimed that the giant rocket would be constructed out of carbon-fiber composites. Now the bulk of the vehicle will be made out of stainless steel alloy instead, a material that Musk argues can withstand super high temperatures and still remain strong. Additionally, the vehicle’s Raptor engines have gone through a supposedly radical redesign.
SpaceX is also making a few changes regarding where it makes the Starship rockets. The company noted that it will shift some of its Starship prototype production to Boca Chica, Texas, rather than the Port of Los Angeles as originally planned. However, development and some manufacturing of Starship and the Raptor engines will still be done out of SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Musk said the company chose to build the prototypes locally in Texas because they were too big to move across the country easily.