SpaceX: Elon Musk’s Starship SN3 prototype collapses in cloud of white smoke during test

NASA has said the failed test means SpaceX will have to rely on other Starship models

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk attends a post-launch news conference to discuss the  SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut capsule in-flight abort test at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Steve Nesius/File Photo

A test on SpaceX’s Starship SN3 has ended in failure after the prototype dramatically collapsed in a cloud of white smoke at its Boca Chica facility in Texas.

NASA has said that the misfiring of the Starship SN3, which had been designed to carry cargo and people to a variety of different destinations including Mars, means SpaceX will now have to focus on future Starship models.

Testing began at the south Texas facility on Thursday and continued into Friday morning when the collapse occurred.

However, the billionaire SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has just said that issues with the prototype may have been caused by the test configuration.

“We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake,” he wrote on Twitter in response to the news.

The lack of success is a clear setback for SpaceX. Two previous models tested by the space technology company also failed to progress beyond the initial phases.

The SN3 was already behind Mr Musk's own timeline for the rocket. He said exactly three months ago that the newly redesigned prototype could get off the ground for the first time just two or three months from then.

The outcome of the test also raises questions over the future of SN3’s successor, which has been touted as being the first design that would perform high-altitude flights some 12 miles above the earth.

In footage of the cryogenic proof test, which is designed to check if the rocket can progress to the next “static fire” phase, the SN3 can be seen emitting large plumes of thick white smoke.

As more smoke shoots out of holes in the fuselage of the rocket, it’s silver exterior crumples and crashes to the ground. Eventually the white clouds fill the Texan night sky at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility.

Proof testing began on Thursday and continued through to Friday morning.

The SN3 test campaign has been at the forefront of SpaceX’s efforts launch missions to Mars. Since founding his space exploration company in 2002, Mr Musk has said he hopes SpaceX will play a central role in the colonisation of Earth’s planetary neighbour.

Despite the possible setback in south Texas, SpaceX has seen major expansion and success in recent months.

In February, the private rocket company won final approval to build a research and manufacturing plant for its deep-space Starship project on a tract of vacant land at the Port of Los Angeles.

The space exploration centre is to play a central role in the broader mission to Mars.

At the start of 2020 SpaceX completed what Mr Musk referred to as “picture perfect” test on an unmanned astronaut capsule, a big step in its mission to fly NASA astronauts for the first time as soon as this spring.

SpaceX is aiming to launch a crewed commercial Starship mission in 20213. In 2018, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked with the company for a round-the-moon voyage.Two years ago Mr Maezawa announced he would depart on the trip with a group of artists. He later provoked a backlash when he launched a competition online to look for a female companion to accompany him.