A booster rocket on Elon Musk’s next-generation spaceship burst into flames on the launchpad, delaying the SpaceX CEO’s plan to get the craft into orbit this year.
Flames engulfed the bottom on the Super Heavy Booster 7 prototype, followed by billows of black smoke as it undertook a ground testfire from a launchpad in Texas on Monday.
The rocket remained standing and appeared to be intact as the smoke began to clear.
A video of the event was posted by NASA spaceflight editor Chris Bergin, promoting Musk to Tweet the response:
“Yeah, actually not good. Team is assessing the damage”.
There were no reported injuries from the explosion and Musk later said that the problem was specific to one of the vehicles 33 engines:
“Going forward, we don’t do a spin start test with all 33 engines at once“, posted the Tesla billionaire.
It’s not the first setback for Musk’s space program. In 2020 and 2021, SpaceX lost all four spacecraft prototypes when as they all crashed landed during test launches.
The Starship finally completed a successful touchdown in May 2021 but is clearly still not without teething problems. Despite the previous technical issues, Musk remained confident that Starship would launch at some point this year.
— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) July 11, 2022
The completed model will be the largest and most powerful of its kind. At 394 feet it will be longer than Saturn V which took man to the Moon and capable of producing twice the thrust.
Musk has made it his life’s mission to send humans into space, eventually with a view to beginning a human settlement on the planet Mars, which Musk insists is necessary to the survival of the human race.
SpaceX is currently working alongside NASA’s Artemis program which aims to send the first woman and the next men to the moon, which the finished Starship will be technically capable of accomplishing.
Speaking at a rally in Texas, Musk said he would like to use Starship for Mars travel in the future too.
Ship 24 was transported to the pad at Starbase in preparation for the first orbital flight test of Starship pic.twitter.com/xm5H8wBmUx
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 6, 2022
The company plans its first commercial flight to the Moon in 2023, where Starship will host Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, taking him on a lunar voyage and close fly-by:
“This flight is an important step toward enabling access for people who dream of travelling to space,” said SpaceX in a statement.
“When the Wright Brothers first took off most people were just riding horses, they would not have imagined that there would be tens of thousands of aircraft flying to every corner of the world.”
But Musk faces further challenges to his space travel dreams as the US Federal Aviation Administration is yet to assess the environmental impact of SpaceX launch and production sites– a requirement by law which can take years to process:
“We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA… We have gotten sort of a rough indication there may be an approval in March. But that’s all we know,” said Musk, adding that a “worst case scenario” would see his rockets launch from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.