SpaceX Starship Prototype Damaged By Fierce Winds, Tests Delayed

Katie Ramirez
January 26, 2019

The SpaceX Starship Hopper fell at the launch site on Boca Chica Beach. The hopper will be used for short suborbital flights and landings.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed the damage on Twitter, writing that 50 miles per hour winds broke the mooring blocks and the fairing was blown over. Unfortunately for the company, Starhopper didn't make it out unscathed, and Musk estimates that it will take weeks to patch things up.

The test hopper is a squat version of a full-scale Starship: a spaceship that's being created to send people to Mars. An image shared by a member of NASA Spaceflight's online forum, shows the aftermath of the accident including the rocket's nosecone crumpled on the ground.

Musk confirmed damage to the nosecone in a tweet Wednesday and estimated that it would take several weeks to fix. Instead, the somewhat crude and windowless ship will rocket on "hops" that go no more than about five kilometres in the air, according to UJS Federal Communications Commission documents. Musk announced early this year that the hopper should start permforing tests in four to eight weeks, a deadline which will obviously be moved given the recent damage.

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The version of the hopper damaged on Wednesday is built of stainless steel, a material never before used successfully in the space industry.

The prototype is a critical experimental vehicle whose successes (or failures) will inform how SpaceX works toward a full-scale, orbit-ready prototype of Starship: a roughly 18-story spaceship created to one day ferry up to 100 people and 150 tons of cargo to Mars.

The glowing metal coupon pictured in Musk's video appears to be heated by the same high-temperature torches SpaceX (and contractors) use to spin-form Falcon 9 and Heavy propellant tank domes and Merlin 1D and MVac engines, potentially explaining the reported 1100C (2000F) the metallic (steel, presumably) heat shield was being heated to.

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