SpaceX was testing a prototype of the Starship SN7 tank at its launch facility in Boca Chica, the second test of this week. The first one, which happened on June 15, ended in a leakage of the tank. But this time, the results were far more dramatic.
This test happened a few days ago on June 23 and was captured by the cameras on Spadre.com (a South Padre Island tourist website) and NASASpaceflight.com. The tank was pushed beyond its capacity as SpaceX filled it with chilled liquid nitrogen to determine its ability to hold highly cold propellant for a real launch. At one point, the enormous tank exploded, spitting out clouds of the liquid nitrogen into the air.
The sight was captured by Mary (also known as BocaChicaGal on Twitter) who follows Starship news. A close-up of the video on NASASpaceflight.com was posted on Twitter and it shows the precise moment when the tank pops and collapses.
Preparing to lift SN5 on to the mount.
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) June 24, 2020
This is just one of the series of tests that SpaceX is conducting at the Boca Chica facility to perfect its equipment and designs for the Starship. Eventually, the company wants to facilitate commercial travel to Mars and is currently using the spacecraft for moon landings, as a part of a NASA project. Starship is among the two other lunar vehicle designs that were chosen by NASA last month to launch its Artemis astronauts to the moon.
This SN7 tank is the second of the company’s prototype tanks to explode. The first was SN4, which exploded on May 29 after the Raptor rocket engine was tested.
On the other hand, some other tests were successful, including the rocket engine tests that happened in early 2019 and the test of the Starhopper spacecraft, one of the first versions of the Starship.
Nevertheless, the company’s CEO Elon Musk is relentless in his pursuit of developing the rocket. He says that SpaceX will learn from every failure it incurs and constantly update the designs. One development that occurred is that the company is now using 304L stainless steel instead of 301. On June 15, after the SN7 test, Musk said that it’s a good sign that the tank didn’t explode, only leaked.
He wrote on Twitter: “Tank didn’t burst, but leaked at 7.6 bar. This is a good result & supports idea of 304L stainless [steel] being better than 301. We’re developing our own alloy to take this even further. Leak before burst is highly desirable.”