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SpaceX Starship explodes in testing, unrelated to planned human launch this weekend

By Benjamin Bullard
SpaceX Starship Mk1 Prototype

A prototype of the Starship vessel that SpaceX hopes will one day rocket humans to Mars exploded Friday on the test pad. The Starship prototype lost in the blast isn’t related to the Crew Dragon vessel scheduled to send humans into space in Saturday’s planned SpaceX launch in Florida.

The Starship explosion, captured in the video below, happened during ground testing of the reusable craft, which SpaceX is designing as a lower-cost and repeatable means of one day making interplanetary travel routine. The mishap — which NBC News reports occurred just after a test firing of the current Starship SN4’s massive Raptor engine — marks the fourth time a Starship prototype has been destroyed in testing.

The explosion created a massive fireball and sent a thunderous crackle through the air, captured in ground-level footage shared by private NASA news website

So far, SpaceX has not commented on the incident, but it's not expected to pose any late logistical challenges that could affect the timeline for Saturday’s hugely anticipated launch of the Crew Dragon craft atop its Falcon 9 rocket. Delayed from May 27 due to inclement weather, that launch is set to take place at 3:22 p.m. ET on Saturday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Unlike the Raptor rocket, which is still comparatively earlier in development, the Falcon 9 that SpaceX and NASA are partnering to launch people to the International Space Station has more than 100 real-world liftoffs under its belt, according to The Verge.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk had previously vowed to maintain a fast pace in getting Starship ready for its ambitious goal of taking people to Mars. A month after the failure of a Starship prototype during cryogenic testing last November, Musk tweeted that SpaceX was sticking with the goal of getting a working prototype ready to fly in as little as “2 to 3 months.” More recently, Musk said SpaceX would scale back the pace to focus more of its resources on its human space flight partnership with NASA.