Third SpaceX Starship Prototype Fails Fuel Tank Tests


Elon Musk’s prediction of multiple failures of SpaceX’s Starship program came true again on Thursday with a different kind of utter destruction. The SN3 prototype of the silo-like vehicle that is purported to be the future of interplanetary space travel this time appeared to implode before collapsing in a heap of twisted stainless steel. The massive cylinder was undergoing a critical pressure test of the fuel tanks using supercooled nitrogen. It appears a leak occurred and that caused the stubby structure to collapse before a major breach ended its role as a prototype.

Musk was a little less jovial about this failure compared to previous mishaps perhaps since SN3 incorporated lessons allegedly learned from the equally spectacular destruction of its two predecessors. “We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake,” Musk said in a tweet late early Friday. Had SN3 passed the cryogenic test, the plan was to static fire the engine and follow that with another rocket-powered hover flight. Instead, the construction of SN4 will start immediately.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • I sure do!

      Redstone, Atlas and Titan prototypes lit up the launch pads at White Sands and Cape Canaveral on a regular basis – to the absolute delight of prepubescent boys across America. Sputnik, and the defense department kept the space program on life support until it could achieve success. I hope Mr. Musk can hold out.

    • “Remember NASA’s early days?”
      Of course I did; which is why I thought Musk was a bit ambitious!

  1. With both Space-X and Tesla, Musk’s failures bring me joy.

    As long as no one is hurt, watching a megalomaniacal narcissist fail is a beautiful thing.

  2. “noun: prototype; plural noun: prototypes
    a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied”

    It’s a cheaply built non-structural prototype/model destined to fail and should never be allowed to leave the ground as SpaceX proposes.