WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
SpaceX’s Starship is a heavy lift rocket that will eventually transport thousands of tons of equipment and people into orbit and to Mars.
SpaceX seems to be permanently in the news at the moment, whether it’s because it’s CEO Elon Musk keeps talking about his new StarLink satellite constellation which will help the other 4 billion people on the planet to the internet, or because his company’s just become NASA’s first commercial space taxi provider, or because his teams are now starting to break ground on the floating launch pads that could one day take people to Mars.
Now though, with that latter goal in mind the ginormous Starship spacecraft that will possibly take the first colonists to Mars, as well as help light thousands of tons of heavy cargo into orbit, has been tested at the company’s Boca Chica site in Texas, where they just performed a 150 meter (500ft) hop test of a full-size prototype.
The Starship is the next-generation spacecraft that SpaceX hopes to use to transport people to Mars, and which first took to the skies as a small prototype called Starhopper last year. The latest version, known as Starship SN5, is something much closer to the final version, save for the lack of the nosecone fairing that will carry its payload.
In its current form, the Starship therefore looks like a clean-cut section of giant metal piping, although packed inside is one of SpaceX’s Raptor engines. The final design for the vehicle will use several of these Methalox staged-combustion engines to blast into space, but for now it’s all about baby steps. Or hops.
For today, the single engine was enough to lift the Starship SN5 to an altitude of 150 meters over its Texas test facility, where it hovered for a few seconds before coming safely down to land.
These types of hopper tests are a standard and critical part of the research and development process for SpaceX engineers. Long before its Falcon 9 rockets began to launch and safely return to land with incredible success and reliability, early first-stage prototypes performed hop tests that started small and reached higher and higher altitudes over time.
SpaceX will hope that its Starship program can follow a similar path. This weeks flights are a significant step forward from the small-scale Starhopper flights conducted last year, with CEO Elon Musk seemingly happy with the rate of development taking place, declaring that “progress is accelerating” in response to one Twitter user.
Musk went on to say that the next steps for the Starship program involve several more short hops to “smooth out launch process” before body flaps are attached and it is taken to higher altitude.
You can watch today’s hop test in the video above.