This afternoon, a prototype of SpaceX's new generation rocket went up for the second time in South Texas and reached a height of a small skyscraper before it landed on earth again. The flight showed the vehicle's ability to take off and land in a controlled manner and paves the way for a more aggressive test of vehicle design in the coming months.
The test, usually a & # 39; hop test & # 39; named, marked the highest flight ever of the SpaceX prototype, nicknamed & # 39; Starhopper & # 39 ;. Equipped with one main engine, the vehicle first flew on July 25, but it only got about 60 feet (18 meters) off the ground, and the entire scene was enveloped in exhaust plumes. Today, Starhopper offered a more impressive view as it departed from the SpaceX test site in Boca Chica, Texas, slowly climbing to the intended height of approximately 500 feet (150 meters). Once there, the vehicle hovered for a full minute in the air before it used its engine to gently land on the ground again.
The Starhopper tests should evaluate the design and hardware that will be used on the future Starship rocket, a monster spacecraft developed by SpaceX to send people and cargo to distant space destinations such as the moon and Mars. Starship is about 55 meters high and is intended to launch from Earth on top of a giant rocket booster called Super Heavy. When it reaches other worlds, the vehicle will land upright with its built-in engines, similar to how the Falcon 9 rockets from SpaceX land on the ground today. It is also supposed to ascend from these distant destinations to return to Earth.
On these test flights, SpaceX is testing a new engine called Raptor, which the company plans to use to power Starship. Starhopper has only flown one Raptor, but the final design of the Starship requires that the spaceship has six Raptor engines. Three will be optimized to work best in the atmosphere of our planet at sea level, and the other three will be designed to work best in the vacuum of space.
SpaceX will soon be adding more engines to its test flights. The company has built two new prototype rockets: one in Boca Chica and another in a SpaceX facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, near where the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are flying. These two test vehicles are slightly more robust than the Starhopper, which was never a true replica of Starship. (The upper part of Starhopper also fell over during a particularly stormy windstorm in Texas and SpaceX chose not to replace it.)
The newer prototypes will each be equipped with three engines, as well as grid fins for steering and better landing gear. The two are intended to perform a series of hop tests that can go up to 12 miles (20 kilometers) up in the next months. Ultimately, SpaceX will fly prototypes that should run to space during the first launches, once SpaceX has completed the Super Heavy booster. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also noted that the two teams that build these prototypes are in a friendly race to be the first to reach space. However, the rules are not super strict, it seems. "A success of both in the vicinity would be great and each would count as a victory," Musk tweeted in August.
After only two hops, the Starhopper is that officially retired while SpaceX focuses on the following prototype rockets. Starhopper will be a stepped-up engine test bench where SpaceX Raptor engines can ignite vertically to see how they perform, according to Musk.
Now that this latest test has been completed, Musk is ready to give an update on the design and progress of the Starship. He originally planned to give a speech at Boca Chica on August 24, after the 500-foot flight. However, Musk pushed the event back after the Federal Aviation Administration had slowly approved the Starhopper flight, forcing SpaceX to postpone the test until Monday, August 26. Musk recently suggested that the interview would already take place mid-September, once the three raptor engines have been attached to the Boca Chica test vehicle.