SpaceX Prototype "blows its top" - is it a failure?

Anyone with an eye on the news today might have seen this story:

SpaceX Starship prototype blows its top - BBC News

"SpaceX's Starship rocket prototype experienced a major failure during pressurisation testing on Wednesday.

The US company bills Starship as an all-purpose transportation system of the future. It will be used to ferry people and cargo off Earth, and to destinations around the globe."

The Mk-1 prototype was due to begin practice flights to an altitude of 20km in the coming weeks.

In a tweet, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that could no longer happen and the ship would be retired.

Development work is already being directed at another prototype.

A statement issued by SpaceX read: "The purpose of today's test was to pressurise systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected."


In other words, SpaceX say they were experimenting with this to see what happened when it was tested under extreme conditions, and so this didn't come as a big surprise. This starship was labelled Mk. 1, which stands for Mark 1, meaning the first version of something.

If an explosion happens during testing, and was not unexpected, is it fair for the news to call it a 'failure'?

Make sure you read the full article by clicking the link above, before you give your opinion.

Comments (31)

  • The Sherwood School outstanding_power | The Sherwood School
    21 Nov 2019

    This is not a failure. This is a method that just didn't work. From that result, people can now work on the SpaceX prototype and improve it.

    Reply to this comment
  • The Sherwood School grateful_crab | The Sherwood School
    21 Nov 2019

    This is not a faliure due to the fact they are researching and are on to something. Also they could learn from their mistake and achieve something great, a great milestone too. They are gaining up to NASA even though the company is private funded. They are trying something, and they can learn from their mistakes and have a very successful mission.
    In summary, this is not a faliure.

    Reply to this comment
  • The Sherwood School playful_truth | The Sherwood School
    21 Nov 2019

    this is not a failure because they can learn from this and rebuild this rocket and modify it to their approval and keep on this cycle until a rocket of highest standard is produced

    Reply to this comment
  • The Sherwood School productive_eel | The Sherwood School
    21 Nov 2019

    This is not a failure but a mistake .This is because the it had not yet launch up into the atmosphere so this cannot count as a failure.Also they will be able to fix it and this can go again. If they do this they might launch the rocket

    Reply to this comment
  • Birchwood-logo-250x250.jpg entertaining_strawberry | Birchwood C of E Primary School
    22 Nov 2019

    Personally, I think this is a failure, but to show open mindedness, i will be discussing both sides of the argument.

    Reasons For
    This rocket was a failure because it exploded in its take off. Say a person was inside of that rocket, testing it out, they would not have survived. All of the smoke that was produced because of this explosion will not be good for the climate either, this makes it very bad if this company keeps on testing and failing a lot more.

    Reasons Against
    This rocket was meant to be a test, and a lot of tests fail. There is a saying, learn from your mistakes, so this test was a method of learning, and nothing about learning is a failure.

    I still personally think this test was a failure, but it was a test. So now my question is, if a test goes wrong, is it still classed as a failure?

    Reply to this comment
    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      entertaining_strawberry's comment 22 Nov 2019

      What do you think about this question you've posed?

      Reply to this comment
  • Birchwood-logo-250x250.jpg buzzing_atom | Birchwood C of E Primary School
    22 Nov 2019

    Personally, I think this is a failure.Here are my reasons.Well firstly the rocket exploded just as it was about to take of and that means it was a failure because it didn't even move a feet of the ground.I also think its a failure because all of that smoke is not really supposed to come out of the rocket like that so that means maybe the thruster or one of the engines have exploded.This is also a lot of smoke which will affect for climate change very badly. This will mainly affect global warming and pollution because of all the greenhouse gases and fumes from the smoke of the rocket.

    Reply to this comment
  • Noel-Park-logo-250x250.jpg brilliant_blackberry | Noel Park Primary School
    22 Nov 2019

    I looked up the dictionary definition of failure, which is simply a lack of success. It is, therefore, a failure if the Starship doesn't do what it was designed to do and, in this way, the Starship prototype was definitely a failure. The founder of Space X has been giving regular updates on its progress and in September said that it was planning to launch it on a test flight within a few months.

    He said, "This thing is going to take off, fly to 65,000 feet, about 20 kilometers, and come back and land in about one to two months. So that giant thing, it's going to be pretty epic to see that thing take off and come back. ... It's wild."

    This clearly isn’t going to happen now which, in the minds of many, would make it a failure. Although the outcome was not completely unexpected, this doesn’t make it any less of a failure as it is incapable of doing the job it was designed to do.

    I think the problem is that people are seeing the word ‘failure’ and immediately thinking it is a negative thing. In the context of the Starship this failure isn’t entirely negative since they using it to improve and learn from their mistakes.

    In conclusion, I see this as a definite failure, but not one that is necessarily a bad thing.

    Reply to this comment
  • The-Ruth-Gorse-logo-250x250.jpg creative_sparrow | The Ruth Gorse Academy
    22 Nov 2019

    I have concluded that the sub heading in the BBC article is not only unfair, it’s incorrect for calling it a ‘major failure’. My opinions are based on reading the full BBC article and comparing and checking it over on other sites including the SpaceX twitter page (which didn’t sound too negative) as well as using the information included in this post. I feel that the BBC mislead the readers to think the whole test was some epic failure. Even though the full article does go on to explain some details of the test, if a reader just glances over at the first few lines, then the person may just go away thinking that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has taken on a real major setback, which is not entirely true.

    The prototype MK-1 had gone through a vigorous test to push the prototype to the maximum pressure level and so I believe there was always a real chance of it exploding anyway, especially when you take a test to the extreme. How I see it, the whole experiment was a negative, only in terms of delaying the company’s timeline for their plans. But, the positives are that SpaceX will now move on to newer, more advanced technology to the MK-3 design which is what space innovation is all about. After all, this is what SpaceX do: "build, test and iterate".

    Reply to this comment
    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      creative_sparrow's comment 25 Nov 2019

      A sceptical comment, creative_sparrow! Though should we also be sceptical of SpaceX's comment?

      Reply to this comment
      1. The-Ruth-Gorse-logo-250x250.jpg creative_sparrow | The Ruth Gorse Academy
        Tom @ the BNC's comment 25 Nov 2019

        Yes, we should also be skeptical about SpaceX’s own comments of downplaying the whole test failure. After all, no explosion is going to look good for SpaceX, even if it’s just a test. So, Elon Musk’s job is to make the whole incident as just a run of the mill problem, even though he probably wishes the test didn’t fail as I’m sure it will bring some difficult challenges ahead.

        My issue is that the BBC should report the pressure test in a neutral way (for example, ‘SpaceX rocket exploded in a pressure test’) without injecting it’s own opinion by calling it a ‘major failure’, especially as they knew a plan B (the MK-3 rocket) was the possible next step forward. This way, the readers can decide what to think for themselves.

        Reply to this comment
  • Weston-Favell-logo-250x250.jpg funny_power | Weston Favell Academy
    24 Nov 2019

    I think that this not a failure because as Charles Kettering said “99% of successes are built on failures” and I feel this is an opportunity to begin again, this time more knowledgeable of what they have learnt from their failure so they can make mark 2 even more improved. These things need to be tested as SpaceX star ship rocket is intended as a an all-purpose transport system of the future, to be used to ferry people and cargo off Earth, and to destinations around the globe. So this needs to be tested because we do not want it to fail in space as people could die. I feel that it is not a failure and agree with the writer Elbert Hubbard who said “there is no failure except no longer trying”.

    Reply to this comment
  • Braiswick Primary School spirited_insect | Braiswick Primary School
    24 Nov 2019

    I think this is not necessarily a failure because as it is there first try, I see it as a test.

    I also think this because near to the end of the video, there was a question posted on Twitter saying that MK-1 had blown its top and if there was any chance of building an MK-3. Elon Musk replied that making an MK-3 would be definite. This shows that they are going to try again to see if that rocket is a definite success.

    Making mistakes does not matter, as you can learn from them. In this case, they can investigate what happened, and if they found out, this will help make a better rocket. Like brilliant_blackberry said, failures are not always negative, they are in fact good, because then you know what to do next when you have the chance.

    It not being completely unexpected indicates that it is also a test as usually tests are to see if something is ready or not. A test is a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, especially before it is taken into widespread use.
    Just because there is a lack of success, that does not mean there is no success at all as the dictionary definition of lack is either not having enough or any. So there could be no evidence of a job being done well and there could.

    The reason I think it is a failure is because if it has blown its top, there is no use of it, but as an example if it had a noticeable scratch on it, that is not a big deal.

    In conclusion of the debate, I think this does not count as a failure as it is a test, as entertaining_strawberry said and it is likely they are going to try again.

    Reply to this comment
    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      spirited_insect's comment 25 Nov 2019

      A well-reasoned answer, spirited_insect!

      Reply to this comment
  • Hillyfield School logo considerate_construction | Hillyfield Primary Academy
    25 Nov 2019

    I believe MK-1 was not a failure because it exploded.We should learn from our mistakes.

    Reply to this comment
  • Millbank-logo-250x250.jpg persuasive_opportunity | Millbank Academy B
    25 Nov 2019

    Tom remember me I wrote about SpaceX. Did you get the idea from me? That video is fake because Elon Musk could not just let that happen. He is a great mathematician so it is impossible! Finally, SpaceX does not look like that, it is more advanced. SpaceX successfully launched 3 rockets in the air and brought them down. Only one is orbitting the moon in a classical Tesla!!! Thank you.

    Reply to this comment
  • Millbank-logo-250x250.jpg persuasive_opportunity | Millbank Academy B
    25 Nov 2019

    Sorry, Tom misconception. It was a test and it exploded!!

    Reply to this comment
  • Graveney-logo-250x250.jpg charismatic_cherry | Graveney School
    26 Nov 2019

    I personally think that it is neither a failure or a success. It is a learning point from which people can improve on their mistakes, it is like that common saying, it is good to make mistakes so that you can learn from them. But in this case it wasn't a mistake or failure, they were just testing it to see if it went to space, it would've been a failure if they had decided that they had done everything, and finished it and safety checked it and it was fine. But when it came to the real mission and they sent people off to space and it exploded when they thought everything was fine, that would be a failure as they thought everything was going to go okay. But they knew that something like this was going to happen and they just wanted to see what would happen so that they could learn from their mistakes.

    Reply to this comment
    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      charismatic_cherry's comment 27 Nov 2019

      A solid chain of reasoning running all the way through your answer, charismatic_cherry.

      Reply to this comment
  • Graveney-logo-250x250.jpg charismatic_cherry | Graveney School
    26 Nov 2019

    It was more of a success than a fail as they could develop the rocket even further now.

    Reply to this comment
  • The-Ruth-Gorse-logo-250x250.jpg balanced_singer | The Ruth Gorse Academy
    26 Nov 2019

    I don't think that it was right to call it a failure.
    This is because it's a lot like life. Some of you may be confused now, let me explain. Imagine you're in maths and you're learning something new. You don't get it right the first time, even with all of that explanation and planning, but that doesn't mean you're a failure. It just takes time to be able to do things the right way, and practice. This is a lot like the prototype blowing up. It was just one of those times where it just wouldn't work the way SpaceX expected it to. Furthermore, it was very ambitious. The article says that ''like the SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets, Starship is designed to be reusable. More so, in fact.'' Including: ''In the case of Starship, it and its booster, which is called the Super Heavy, will make a controlled landing following a mission.'' This is different from the Falcon nine - a previous SpaceX rocket: ''On the Falcon-9, only the lower booster comes back to Earth after a flight; the upper-stage is expendable''. Expendable meaning, of low significance, and therefore able to be abandoned or destroyed. Also, part of the article states that they believe in a rapid process of "build, test and iterate". Now, in my opinion, I'm not sure if being very quick to do things is good in all circumstances. And in the article, they gave a relative example earlier before they said this. It says: ''its Dragon astronaut capsule suffered a dramatic explosion on a test stand.'' I think it's that mindset that they think can do such a big project very quickly. Owing to the fact that anyone can be like that; however, we're talking about a mass project which could change humanity in the future. But again it doesn't make them a failure. To add, some people have mentioned that it was an experiment and not the real thing. The fact that it was a prototype makes the situation better in away. If it was real: so much more CO2 would have gone into the atmosphere; people would have died, and I think that the most prominent reason would be that so much money would have been lost. We need to remember that SpaceX is a private company that isn't funded by the government. So, if it wasn't a test then I think the media would be buzzing about it a lot more ( I only found out about it once reading this post ).
    Some people may think that it was a failure though.
    One reason would be that Elon Musk was in charge of it: the creator of Tesla, the CEO of SpaceX. People would have been expecting it to be a success. Because a man with an IQ of 155 should probably be very smart. Also, as I mentioned before something as big as a rocket launch should have every single little detail checked over so that nothing goes wrong.

    Overall, I don't think it was a failure.

    Reply to this comment
    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      balanced_singer's comment 27 Nov 2019

      Thanks for this thoughtful interrogation of the article! You've brought in evidence from the text to support your point. You mention the expectation of success - does that make people/things with high expectations more prone to failure?

      Reply to this comment
      1. The-Ruth-Gorse-logo-250x250.jpg balanced_singer | The Ruth Gorse Academy
        Tom @ the BNC's comment 28 Nov 2019

        Hi Tom,

        I think that in general everyday life it's a lot more different compared to a more professional, unique circumstance.

        When others expect you to do great work, a lot of determination and hard work is put in to fulfill their expectations. I think that this could be in both circumstances since as I mentioned in my previous comment the article states "build, test and iterate." From personal experience, I know that doing things quickly doesn't get you where you want to be: you need to take your time. The pressure given off because of high expectations, causes people to expect more of themselves and to make themselves work harder. Therefore, this can sometimes lead to failure. One example in real life could be that: people are comparing you to another person in your class. They tell you that they're doing so much better than you and that you need to try so much harder so that you can be better than them. I think that this could be a very relatable example for a lot of everyday people. However, can there be a reason for the more unique cases? I had a think. Since there are many space exploration programs around the world, there could be competition between the many to find out who finds X Y Z first. One of the things that we discussed in our BNC session was how it would be decided who would be given the precious metals found in asteroids. This could be one of the major competitive sides of space exploration. Previous research verifies that high expectations lead to increased effort and achievement. Previous research verifies that high expectations lead to increased effort and achievement. This could be because they might believe that they have to prove themselves in order to get to where they want to be. An example of this would be. Auditioning for a school production of some sort. You need to audition so that you can show that you can handle the role that you want. People may think that a reward of some sort will be given - respect perhaps - linking back to the production example when you perform it in front of people, everyone will hopefully enjoy it and you'll feel good about yourself: this could be an example of a reward. Using the source I found this quote, "But sometimes high expectations can raise concerns about professional reputation. Fearing that failure could damage their standing, employees may feel embarrassed, make excuses, and withdraw their efforts.''I think this quote can link to a more unique experience. In this case, the SpaceX blow up. To examine the negative effects of high expectations, some researchers conducted two studies. The first one examined data from men’s tennis matches. Since tennis is a competitive sport and favored players are well known because of the basis of comments people give and world competition placings. These players who are highly praised for their achievements face high expectations for what they do in the game. Statistics show that if a player was expected to win a match and didn't perform well at the start of the game, he was significantly more likely to quit and claim he was injured. In the second study, a number of students were brought into a room and asked to compete in a trivia challenge. They were told they would receive a certain amount of money for correctly answering the given questions and their performance would be ranked for everyone to see. All of the students were asked the same questions, but one group was told that the questions were easy. This caused them to expect that they would get most of it right for their questions. After the first 20 questions, the students were given the option to switch trivia topics, which would cause them to lose some of the money but improve it would their rankings. Randomly in the study, the students stated their emotions and confidence level. The results given from the test showed that students who faced high expectations were more likely to feel embarrassed and to switch topics during the game. So the first one was to see who failed easily from expectations and the second one was to find out how expectations could play with emotions and lead to 'failure'.

        Overall, I think that high expectations can lead to failure, but it should relate to the circumstance being dealt with.

        Reply to this comment
        1. The-Ruth-Gorse-logo-250x250.jpg balanced_singer | The Ruth Gorse Academy
          balanced_singer's comment 29 Nov 2019

          I forgot to include my source
          https://www.ioatwork.com/do-high-expectations-decrease-performance/

          Reply to this comment
  • Hillyfield School logo stupendous_market | Hillyfield Primary Academy
    28 Nov 2019

    I do not think it is a failure if it explodes because "you learn from your mistakes" so they can build a new spaceX prototype.

    Reply to this comment
  • Boutcher-logo-250x250.jpg entertaining_acorn | Boutcher C of E Primary School
    28 Nov 2019

    I don't think that it is a failure since they said"They were experimenting on extreme temperatures . "so this means
    they have leant from their mistake, and they will make changes to make it safe.

    Reply to this comment
  • Upton-Cross-logo-250x250.jpg brilliant_fossil | Upton Cross Primary School A
    28 Nov 2019

    I think it was a failure because it was supposed to launch and go up into space but unfortunatly a whole load of steam came out and it was covering up the area and you could see nothing but smoke.In my opinion I don't think that was the plan that they had planned, I think the plan was supposed to be that the rocket launches into to space to find a new discovery to be keeped updated for the latest facts that will help and provide childrens learning and maybe can even help adults that don't know that many facts about space although that will not happen if we fail to go into to space or if we fail to launch that is why personally this rocket launch was a failure but it is ok because mistakes are part of learning so it doesn't matter if you are wrong because when your an astronaut it matters about confidence and the journy ahead of you.

    Reply to this comment
  • Braiswick Primary School succinct_leaves | Braiswick Primary School
    28 Nov 2019

    I think this isn't a failure as this isn't the final model for the Starship; SpaceX know that it can be made better with a few modifications and adjustments. It could also be seen as a chance to learn as we all learn from our mistakes and SpaceX is no acception to this. Finally, SpaceX have a lot of time. They don't need to rush and try to get the model out in time; they need to take their time to ensure there won't be any faults in the system. We don't want more deaths and injuries to be caused because of the demand of human beings. In a weird way of looking at it, if we make a demand for the Starship, SpaceX could rush it causing pilots to die, so we are indirectly killing our own species. Even though it wasn't on purpose, this is technically a crime as murder is considered serious in our society. So it isn't a failure, more an experiment to see what will happen with it, which is nothing to be ashamed about.

    succinct_leaves

    Reply to this comment
  • Braiswick Primary School succinct_leaves | Braiswick Primary School
    28 Nov 2019

    Sorry, while writing this I didn't realise stupendous_market had the same idea that we learn from our mistakes, but I do agree with them: we learn from our mistakes.

    Reply to this comment
  • Upton-Cross-logo-250x250.jpg compassionate_seal | Upton Cross Primary School A
    29 Nov 2019

    I saw that it blew up but what didn't see was how.
    Failure,that i the word which apears in our minds,it basically means you've failed in something and I wouldn't call that really a failure because what I saw was just it exploding so even if it was a failure that was lots of people's hard work but maybe they were(since I didn't know what happen inside)doing some experiments and it exploded but mistakes happen in expriments so that really wasn't a failure to me but a mistake and you can learn from mistakes.I think this because I remember that every one makes mistakes and then you can improve it.

    Reply to this comment

You must be logged in to post a comment