The volatile nature of space rocket engines means that many early prototypes end up embedded in dirt banks or decorating the tops of any trees that are unfortunate enough to neighbor testing sites. Unintended explosions are in fact so common that rocket scientists have come up with a euphemism for when it happens: rapid unscheduled disassembly, or RUD for short.
Every time a rocket engine blows up, the source of the failure needs to be found so that it can be fixed. A new and improved engine is then designed, manufactured, shipped to the test site and fired, and the cycle begins again — until the only disassembly taking place is of the slow, scheduled kind. Perfecting rocket engines in this way is one of the main sources of developmental delays in what is a rapidly expanding space industry.
Today, 3D printing technology, using heat-resistant metal alloys, is revolutionizing trial-and-error rocket development. Whole structures that would have previously required hundreds of distinct components can now be printed in a matter of days. This means you can expect to see many more rockets blowing into tiny pieces in the coming years, but the parts they’re actually made of are set to become larger and fewer as the private sector space race intensifies.