Winds knock over upper portion of Starship prototype

SpaceX’s Starship Hopper prototype, recently completed at the Boca Chica launch site and awaiting test flights, was no match for the Rio Grande Valley wind Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, with the upper section of the rocket sustaining heavy damage after being blown over.

The company’s CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, tweeted Wednesday morning that 50-mph winds broke the craft’s mooring blocks late Tuesday night and allowed the rocket’s fairing, already detached from the booster section, to topple over. He tweeted that repairs will take “a few weeks.”  

Rob Frye, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Brownsville Station, said Wednesday morning that two high-wind events had taken place in the Lower Rio Grande Valley over the previous 24 hours. First came high southerly winds ahead of a powerful cold front, followed by a period of calm, then strong north-northwesterly winds with initial passage of the front, he said.

“Yesterday (Tuesday) we had tropical force winds, sustained, a time or two,” Frye said.

The highest recorded gust in Brownsville on Tuesday was 54 mph from the south, recorded at 1:22 p.m., followed by a peak of 45 mph from the north just before 5 a.m. Wednesday, he said. The highest recorded gust in the Lower Valley during the period was in Harlingen, which experienced a 55-mph southerly gust Tuesday afternoon, Frye said.

He said the extreme winds were caused by a stronger-than-normal gradient between high- and low pressure systems.

Musk had said non-orbital launch/landing tests of Starship Hopper could begin as soon as February or March, though now it seems likely testing will be pushed back pending repairs to the rocket.