SpaceX’s Mars Rocket Test Launch Delayed After Huge Accidental Fireball

SpaceX Starship heat shield tiles
A 2019 video shared by SpaceX chief Elon Musk shows the upper stage Starship's heat shield tiles subject to a flame test. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) bid to launch its Starship next generation rocket to orbit as part of a test flight faced a major setback earlier this week after the rocket's first stage booster saw a massive explosion take place due to a fuel-rich air mixture. The explosion did not damage the booster or the surrounding launch tower, but the company will have to transport the rocket back to its heavy bay from the launch site in Boca Chica, Texas in order to inspect the engine and ensure that they are prepared for pre-launch testing. SpaceX plans to replace its Falcon 9 lineup with Starship and conduct missions to the Moon and Mars with the rocket once it is operational.

SpaceX Will Move Booster 7 Back To High Bay Confirms Elon Musk

The accident took place in the afternoon local time Texas, when SpaceX was testing its Raptor 2 engines. 33 of these engines are present in the first stage, referred to as Super Heavy, and each is capable of generating 230 tons of thrust. Footage of the event showed the Raptors venting thick clouds of what is speculated to be Methane, and within moments a huge fire erupted under them alongside a loud explosion that generated shockwaves.

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An hour after the fire abated, multiple smaller explosions were heard which also led to smaller fires away from the rocket and close to its launch tower. However, just like the first explosion, these did not appear to inflict any serious damage to the 230 feet tall booster.

Afterward, SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk shared details about the accident on Twitter, where he outlined that the cause of the explosions was a fuel rich air mixture that should be detected by the sensors used by his company. Mr. Musk also explained that the event took place after his company started to test the engines' starting cycle. This cycle involves several pumps spinning together at the same time to provide the engine with a mixture of fuel and oxygen.

A shockwave is visible just as the explosion and fireball erupted on Monday. Image: Booster 7 Anomaly Causes Detonation/YouTube

Now, the executive has confirmed that his company will transport the booster back from its launch site to a high bay in order to inspect the Raptor 2 engines. He shared a brief clip of the launch site earlier today and outlined that:

Was just up in the booster propulsion section. Damage appears to be minor, but we need to inspect all the engines. Best to do this in the high bay.

1:44 AM · Jul 13, 2022·Twitter for iPhone

The high bay Musk is referring to is SpaceX's roughly 265 feet tall structure that is used to store the Super Heavy boosters before they are rolled out to the launch pad. The company also assembles its rockets in one of the tallest structures in its Boca Chica facilities.

How long Booster 7's inspection will take is up for speculation, but SpaceX is known for moving fast. The previous accident involving this rocket saw its liquid oxygen pipe get damaged as part of a pressure test in May. SpaceX proceeded to transport the booster back to its inspection facilities and repaired it in two weeks.

Musk's initial statements indicated that he is optimistic about the booster and its engine health, so in the best case scenario, his company might find no damage to the engines and return the booster back to the launch site immediately after inspection. However, it might also have to test the engines on their own before it can head towards a static fire test that will see the booster fire up all engines at the same time to validate their performance.

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