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SpaceX Starship Prototype Suffers Massive Failure, Partially Explodes

SpaceX’s Starship prototype Mk1 suffered a catastrophic failure on its Boca Chica launchpad in South Texas Wednesday afternoon.  

Video captured by area residents shows the stainless steel pillar erupting, shooting off the top of the test vehicle, and billowing white gas from the liquid nitrogen it was being pressurized with.

According to a statement from SpaceX, no one was hurt in the explosion, and the test was to pressurize the vehicle to the max.

The vehicle stood behind SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in late September at their South Texas facility as the tech mogul talked about the company’s future. When completed, he said Starship would play a pivotal role in plans for going back to the moon and Mars. 

It is likely the end of the road for Mk1 though. The steel hull appeared to buckle around the point of the explosion. The company said the vehicle was not bound for space regardless.

Related | SpaceX Squares Off Against Neighbors

The explosion on Boca Chica Beach was less than two miles away from about 36 houses in Boca Chica Village, a community the company is currently trying to purchase. 

SpaceX does not consider Wednesday’s events to be a “serious setback.” In a tweet, CEO Elon Musk said the failure had value as “a manufacturing pathfinder” and they would move onto its next version of the spaceship, the Mk3. 

Paul Flahive can be reached or on Twitter @paulflahive.

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The Starship Mk1 in September 2019
Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio /
The Starship Mk1 in September 2019

Paul Flahive is the accountability reporter for Texas Public Radio. He has worked in public media across the country, from Iowa City and Chicago to Anchorage and San Antonio.