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SpaceX's giant rocket ship was blown over and damaged by powerful winds in Texas — and Elon Musk says repairs will take weeks

Dave Mosher , Business Insider US
 Jan 23, 2019, 06:10 PM

An illustration of SpaceX's "test hopper," an experimental stainless-steel ship. Though it won't launch into space, the vehicle will help Elon Musk's rocket company work on a large and similar Starship spacecraft for reaching Mars.

  • Elon Musk's rocket company, SpaceX, has built a prototype of a stainless-steel rocket ship in southern Texas in the US.
  • Locals who live near the site reported on Wednesday morning that the vehicle, known as the "test hopper," was blown over by powerful gusts of wind.
  • Musk and SpaceX confirmed those reports early Wednesday morning via Twitter, saying the damage will take weeks to repair.
  • The test hopper is a squat version of a full-scale Starship: a spaceship that's being designed to send people to Mars.
  • Musk said the test hopper could launch in Texas in four to eight weeks, or nearly a year ahead of schedule.


Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, said that the top section of his company's shiny new prototype of a giant rocket was blown over by powerful gusts of wind overnight.

"I just heard," he tweeted on Wednesday morning, confirming local on-the-ground reports that the vehicle was no longer vertical. "50 mph [80 kph] winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair."

Chris Bergin, the managing editor of NASASpaceFlight.com, posted an image on Twitter of the damage. The photo, taken by a user named BocaChicaGal, shows the top half of the vehicle crumpled and broken open at the top.

See also: SpaceX is building a 'test hopper' Mars spaceship in Texas — and Elon Musk says it could launch by March

"Whoops. Starship Hopper nosecone has been blown over in high winds," Bergin said of the picture.

SpaceX has worked feverishly to build the vehicle since at its facility in southern Texas since late last year. Musk and Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, call the ship the "test hopper" because it's not designed to launch to Mars or even into orbit around Earth. Instead, the somewhat crude and windowless ship will rocket on "hops" that go no more than about five kilometres in the air, according to UJS Federal Communications Commission documents.

In early January, Musk said the rocket ship could start those hops in four to eight weeks, but that timeline no longer looks tenable, given the damage.

The prototype is a critical experimental vehicle whose successes (or failures) will inform how SpaceX works toward a full-scale, orbit-ready prototype of Starship: a roughly 18-story spaceship designed to one day ferry up to 100 people and 150 tons of cargo to Mars.

Musk previously said SpaceX plans to build a taller, orbit-capable version "around June" of this year. He said that rocketship would have "thicker skins (won't wrinkle) & a smoothly curving nose section.

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