This Friday, the futuristic space company SpaceX recently prepared its latest iteration of the new Starship prototype known by the Serial No. 4, or SN4, for a required static test fire all the way in Texas. Apparently, the Raptor engine actually appeared to fire nominally only for a couple of seconds at 1:47 PM local time and then shutting down just as planned.
However, just about a minute after the whole engine shutdown, there sparked some kind of uncontrolled gaseous leak, another minute later the vehicle actually exploded in an instant. This was a truly fast Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.
The Starship prototype was packed with both liquid oxygen and methane. These two appeared to be mostly destroyed when both the fire and smoke cleared out. The test stand also took quite an amount of damage while some of the surrounding ground support equipment was able to appear unharmed. Despite this, there is still a possibility that the shock wave from the SN4's recent demise might have caused damage to those structures.
It was not initially clear what was going on while speculations started circling whether this was actually an issue with the support equipment on the ground or maybe the vehicle itself. In this incident, SpaceX actually looked like it was making good progress with the latest Starship prototype. This success is similar to the static fire test that had also been performed on Thursday.
The company's first static fire test for the sN4 was on May 5 hailing from South Texas Launch Site. Ever since then, the company actually fired the rocket another time with its own original Raptor engine just before swapping to a brand new engine.
This was actually the third static fire test of the brand new engine and a full video of the propellant landing, the entire static fire test, and also the destruction of SpaceX's SN4 can be watched on NASASpaceflight.com.
Basing on the road closure schedules, it seemed as though the company might have actually been testing in preparation for the specific short, 150 meters hop just as soon as the Monday to come. On Thursday, the company also received a certain launch license for a few suborbital tests given by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The SN4 was also not the full configuration of the ideal Starship because it lacked the nose cone, the flaps, and also other features that are needed for flight, However, it still had the bulk of the vehicle which includes its liquid methane along with liquid oxygen tank structure.
Despite the recent unfortunate demise, the engineers at SpaceX were still able to gather significant data from the SN4's own five static fire tests that took place between Nov 2019 all the way to April 2020 losing three full prototypes in the process.