SpaceX's next-gen Starship completes first hopper test flight
The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are the stars of the show for SpaceX, but the company's deep space aspirations rest on an even larger and more powerful vehicle known as the Starship. Today it flew this next-gen spacecraft for the first time ever, albeit only for a fleeting moment as the company commences sub-orbital hopper tests.
SpaceX added the finishing touches to the first Starship prototype back in January at its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. This first prototype of the super heavy-lift vehicle is known as Starhopper and is built purely for the sub-orbital hopper tests, where SpaceX will practice launching and landing it within the confines of Earth's atmosphere.
After mounting its Raptor engine to the vehicle two weeks ago, everything appeared on track for this first hopper test in mid-July, in which Starship would lift off to an altitude of around 20 m (66 ft), move a little sideways, and then come down and land.
As is often the way when it comes to spaceflight, a string of unforeseen setbacks conspired to delay this maiden voyage, including a fire on the launchpad yesterday just the craft started up its engines. This followed another fiery event last week during a static-fire test, where the vehicle fires its engines but remains tethered to the pad.
But SpaceX has now let Starhopper off the leash for the first time, and apparently without incident. Musk confirmed the hop test's success on Twitter, adding that another 200-meter (650-ft) hop is planned for "a week or two."
In the meantime, SpaceX is continuing work on an orbital version of the Starship, which will fly to higher altitudes and have a thicker stainless steel skin to prevent wrinkling and a smoother nose section. Musk has said he will do a full technical presentation of the Starship once this first flight was completed, so we may learn a whole lot more about the vehicle and SpaceX's plans for it in the near future.
Source: Elon Musk (Twitter)