One day before SpaceX's Crew Dragon is due to carry two astronauts on the first crewed mission from U.S. soil to the International Space Station, Elon Musk's company prototype Starship was destroyed in a mid-test explosion in Boca Chica, Texas.
The boom was caught on livestream (skip ahead roughly two hours):
SpaceX's Starship prototype erupts in giant explosion
The fourth prototype of SpaceX's next-generation Starship rocket erupted in a giant explosion after the company tested the vehicle in its Texas-based development facility.
Elon Musk's space faring company was testing the rocket's engine in a test on the ground called a static fire. Minutes following what was thought to be a successful test, the Starship prototype called Serial Number 4 exploded, reports CNBC.
This prototype was different from the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is set to launch NASA astronauts from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday. That rocket system has already seen repeated success launching satellites and cargo to space, and is the culmination of years of development and testing.
Starship 4 down, but future still aims high
The Starship rocket — distinct from the Falcon 9 — is undergoing development to launch people and cargo to the moon and Mars. The rocket was designed to be reusable, so SpaceX can launch and land it several times, not unlike a commercial airplane. Starship's small external appearance is an optical illusion stemming from the kind of stainless steel SpaceX uses to build the new rocket.
While this Starship prototype is the latest and fourth one SpaceX has constructed, it's also the one that made it the furthest through tests — passing numerous crucial milestones. However, the company hasn't yet begun flight testing its most recent build of the rocket. An earlier iteration called the Starhopper successfully completed a launch and landing flight test in October 2019.
So far, SpaceX has built and destroyed four different Starship prototypes — each failing to a variety of distinct failures during testing. Undaunted, SpaceX has aggressively pursued Starship development, aiming for a flight later this year — and the moon in 2022.