SpaceX Starship Site Struck By Lightning – SN4 Prototype Unharmed
Despite two crucial payloads due for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the weather, it seems is not in the mood to facilitate any space exploration for the time being. After the United Launch Alliance postponed the launch of Boeing's X-37B spaceplane at the last moment yesterday, Hawthorne, California-based aerospace launch services provider Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was first forced to shift the launch of the eighth batch of its Starlink satellites to Monday, and then to Tuesday.
As the weather delays the launch of one SpaceX project in Florida, unfavorable climate conditions also put the company's Starship landing vehicle project perilously close to harm's way earlier today when lightning struck its manufacturing and future launch facility in Boca Chica Texas.
SpaceX Boca Chica Site Struck By Lightning As Weather Continues To Play Havoc With Company's Plans
The lightning strike took place at 6:27 am local time in Boca Chica, Texas and was caught on one of the several live streams that provide 24/7 coverage of SpaceX's progress with the Starship. SpaceX is busy churning out prototypes of Starship, as the company looks to briskly move forward to testing the vehicle.
Reports last week have suggested that the first 'hop' of the Starship will take place next week, with three Raptor full-flow staged-combustion methane-fuelled rocket engines powering the prototype. Speculation around this hop has picked up the pace especially after the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) released a NOTAM (notice to airmen) on Friday to "provide a safe environment for space launch and reentry operations" (FAA NOTAM 0/1466).
However, even as the buzz around Starship grew at the tail-end of this week, the lightning strike spotted by SpaceX watcher LabPadre nearly ensured that the company might not have had a landing vehicle to conduct the hop next week.
— LabPadre (@LabPadre) May 17, 2020
Given the sheer size of space vehicles, launch sites often feature lightning arresters to ensure that costly and time-consuming launch vehicles are not damaged by lightning strikes. SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica does not have such arresters, and therefore, the fact that this lightning strike missed the Starship SN4 prototype can only be ascribed to luck. Looking closely at the prototype suggests that it was earthed at the time of the strike, and therefore the probability of damage to SN4 appears to be quite low.
Yet, this still does not rule out future incidents where SpaceX incurs damage in the off event that lightning strikes an unearthed prototype. The pace of prototype manufacturing demonstrated by the company in Boca Chica has won a favor from NASA, who commented on the impressiveness of this pace in the agency's source selection document for the Human Landing System. SpaceX is one of three companies that will work with NASA to deliver the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface as part of NASA's Artemis program.
However, landing astronauts on the moon is not the Starship landing vehicle's only objective. SpaceX intends for the project to not only take the first humans to Mars as part of C.E.O Elon Musk's plan of a Martian human colony, but the company also intends to use Starship for conducting sub-orbital flights that vastly reduce the time of travel on planet Earth. Whether it'll succeed in doing so will be determined only by the speed of progress made in Boca Chica, Texas.