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How many more Starship prototypes will be destroyed before one flies?


SpaceX is currently developing its next-generation Starship launch vehicle. They are currently pursuing an unorthodox approach to vehicle development in which they rapidly construct and test many prototypes in parallel in an open field, with the intention of iterating and learning from each prototype. Although this has led to an impressive amount of visible progress in a short amount of time, it has also resulted in several spectacular failures along the way. This has led some to speculate that the continued destruction of prototypes is inevitable.

With that in mind, we ask:

How many more Starship prototypes (after SN4) will be destroyed before a prototype reaches an altitude of at least 1 km?

  • The definition of Starship is the same as in this question.
  • To trigger resolution, the prototype must be intact at an altitude of 1 km, having ascended by firing its engines. It does not count if an explosion flings portions of the prototype to an altitude of 1 km.
  • A prototype is destroyed if it is engulfed in fire, is visibly warped or crushed, no longer keeps its fuel/oxygen inside itself, or is broken into multiple large pieces (not on purpose). It is considered destroyed even if a substantial portion can be salvaged, e.g. Starhopper whose nosecone blew off, but received a replacement nosecone and went on to complete a successful test. In principle, a single continually-rebuilt "Starship of Theseus" could be counted as destroyed multiple times.
  • Damage that can in principle be repaired without replacing the pressure vessel (for example, a contained engine failure) is not considered destruction. A prototype that is retired without being destroyed (for example, SN2) is not destroyed. Admins may use their judgment for edge cases.
  • For clarity, the prototypes that qualify as destroyed so far are linked in the first paragraph: Starhopper (front fell off), MK1 (front fell off enthusiastically), SN1 (bottom fell off), SN3 (front went to the back), SN4 (all pieces fell off simultaneously).
  • "Prototypes" also include things like the SN7 test tank.
  • If Starship production is moved inside a building or is otherwise no longer monitored 24/7 by nosy fans, a statement by SpaceX or a SpaceX executive that a Starship has been destroyed is also acceptable. If no statement is made, or a statement only states that a prototype was "damaged" or that an "anomaly" occurred without further detail, it is not considered evidence of destruction.
  • If a successful hop does not occur by the resolution date, the question resolves as the number of destroyed prototypes at that time, not as ambiguous.
Industry – Space

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