SpaceX shock: Watch the dramatic moment Starship test rocket collapses

After being transported to the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, Starship SN3 was prepared for a program of tests on the ground and in flight. However, the SpaceX prototype failed during proof testing on Friday morning.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced on social media soon after the incident that it may have been the result of a “test configuration mistake”.

This may have been a test configuration mistake

Elon Musk

The Starship rocket reportedly incorporated lessons learned from previous vehicles and test articles.

SN3 also took advantage of improved manufacturing techniques and expanded facilities at SpaceX’s South Texas launch facility.

Cryogenic proof tests saw Starship vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures.


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Proof testing began yesterday and continued through to this morning when SN3 failed.

Elon Musk tweeted “we will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake”.

This suggests the fault may have been related to detanking, instead of another failure.

Previous versions of Starship have had their campaigns ended prematurely by failed cryogenic testing.

These have included the last flight vehicle, the SpaceX Starship SN1.

However, the previous losses were due to the vehicles unable to deal with pressurisation testing.

SpaceX’s first vehicle tested in Boca Chica – dubbed Starhopper – was the first Starship test vehicle to fly under power from the Raptor rocket engine.

A static fire and a tethered hop test made using Raptor SN2, took place in April 2019.

A second static fire, and two free flights to 60ft (18m) and 500ft (150m) in altitude, occurred in July and August 2019 using Raptor SN6.


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Starhopper was then retired in favour of Starship Mk1, which was originally intended to advance the Starship flight test program to more extreme altitudes.

However, SpaceX decided to instead focus on an improved design named Mk3.

On November 20 last year the Mk1 vehicle completed a destructive cryogenic pressure test that destroyed the vehicle.

SpaceX also built individual test tanks to continue improving manufacturing methods.

One tank was tested until destruction on January 10, reaching a pressure of 7.1 bar, above the 6 bar pressure required for orbital flight.

A second test tank reached 8.5 bar during a destructive test on January 29, marking the 1.4 safety factor over the 6 bar orbital flight requirement.

The updated Starship Mk3 design was renamed Starship SN1 and arrived to continue the flight test program.

However, the SN1 vehicle was also destroyed during cryogenic testing on February 28.

SpaceX fabricated a test tank designated SN2 to complete further testing and the tank was tested successfully at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures in the following month.

Starship SN3 is now considered the culmination of all of these test articles.

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