Even giants like SpaceX have to brave conditions where things just don’t happen in accordance with their plans.
The gigantic rocket the company had developed to take its first orbital launch-ready Starship into orbit turned to ashes right after launch at around 4:20 pm local time at the company’s testing facilities near Boca Chica, Texas.
“Holy moly,” tweeted NASASpaceFlight’s Chris Bergin. “Well, that was unexpected!”
Elon Musk initially assumed that the explosion was planned but deleted the tweet uncharacteristically. He then clarified that it was indeed an accident. Admissions of the sort rarely come from Elon Musk, who is an unruly and blunt billionaire otherwise.
“Yeah, actually not good,” he tweeted, responding to Bergin two hours following the explosion. “Team is assessing the damage.”
The company is still looking for the culprit. But, according to Musk, the oxygen-rich environment surrounding the launch pad may have facilitated an ignition.
“Cryogenic fuel is an added challenge, as it evaporates to create fuel-air explosion risk in a partially oxygen atmosphere like Earth,” he explained in a follow-up.
“That said, we have a lot of sensors to detect this,” he added. “More later.”
Musk also added that the company intends to set sparks under the engine section to ensure that all leaking sources of hydrogen burn off before they can cause a massive fireball.
“Base of the vehicle seems ok by flashlight,” Musk tweeted. “I was just out there about an hour ago. We shut down the pad for the night for safety. Will know more in the morning.”
The incident is an unfortunate reminder that things can go wrong even after all checks are in place. Moreover, we would now have to wait a little longer to hear about a specific date for the orbital launch.