SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that the igniters for the vehicle’s raptor engine needed to be inspected Monday after the failed attempt. But everything looked picture perfect during Tuesday’s test flight.
But even as the company gets off the ground in Texas, a second team in Florida is working on its own starship.
SpaceX is also in the process of building a second starship at its facility in Cocoa, Florida.
The Starhopper vehicle and its super heavy booster, is a reusable rocket system being developed by SpaceX for crewed and uncrewed missions to the moon and Mars.
“It’s amazing to watch what’s going on out there,” said Dale Ketcham, with Space Florida. “A lot of driven people doing hard work, but you can see the results.”
Musk was recently in Central Florida to check on the progress himself.
Space Florida is doing all it can to ensure as much Starship activity as possible will happen on the Space Coast.
“We’re certainly working very hard to see that one of those locations, if not the only one, is here in Florida,” Ketcham said. “That would be another huge development for the Space Coast and the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.”
Starhopper, an early test prototype of SpaceX’s Mars-colonizing Starship spacecraft, flew high into the South Texas skies yesterday (Aug. 27), acing its …
A gorgeous photo shows SpaceX’s Starhopper vehicle coming back down to Earth for the final time.
Starhopper, an early test prototype of SpaceX’s Mars-colonizing Starship spacecraft, flew high into the South Texas skies yesterday (Aug. 27), acing its fourth and final test jaunt. The one-minute flight took Starhopper several hundred feet up and featured a sideways translation to a landing pad a short distance away.
The new photo, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter yesterday afternoon, captures Starhopper just before that touchdown. Dust kicked up by the descent billows around the vehicle, and a column of flame extends from Starhopper’s single Raptor engine down the landing pad.
The moment apparently put Musk in a contemplative mood. “One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars,” he wrote in the Twitter post.
Yesterday’s flight brings that future milestone a little closer. Starhopper has proven its mettle and will now be turned into a Raptor test stand, Musk has said. The next test flights will reach Earth orbit, and they’ll be performed by advanced prototypes known as Starship Mk1 and Mk2.
Mk1 is being built at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, the site that has hosted Starhopper’s forays into the sky. Mk2 is coming together on Florida’s Space Coast. The idea is to improve the design of the final 100-passenger Starship by spurring some intracompany competition, Musk has said.
Both Mk1 and Mk2 will sport at least three Raptors. The operational Starship will have six engines, and the Super Heavy rocket that will launch the spacecraft from Earth will be powered by 35 Raptors, Musk has said. (Those numbers could change, however; the billionaire entrepreneur has promised a Starship design update soon.)
If all goes according to plan, Starship and Super Heavy could start launching satellites as early as 2021 and begin flying people just two years later. Indeed, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a Starship flight around the moon that’s currently targeted for 2023.
Starhopper’s first two hops took place in early April. On both occasions, the vehicle was tethered for safety’s sake and barely rose off the ground. Starhopper was unleashed for the first time on July 25, when the stubby prototype soared on a flight with a maximum expected altitude of 65 feet (20 meters). Yesterday’s flight had a ceiling of 150 m (about 500 feet), a limit imposed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
SpaceX could send Starship to Mars by as early as 2024. More realistically, the company plans to use the rocket to conduct cargo missions in 2021.
At first glance, the test might not seem too impressive. But it marked the first time a craft used a liquid-methane-burning engine to fly that high above the ground, serving as a proof-of-concept that SpaceX can use to move forward confidently with full-scale prototypes of Starship. These prototypes — which SpaceX is calling Mk1 and Mk2 — will pave the way for future moon and Mars missions using Starship.
Starship is set to use six SpaceX raptor engines, which are a family of methane-fueled SpaceX engines that the company plans to use on interplanetary missions. (For context: Starhopper used a single Raptor engine; Mk1 and Mk2 will probably use three each; and the “Super Heavy” rocket is set to use 35.) However, Musk said Starship’s specifications might get updated after SpaceX reviews data from Tuesday’s test.
As for Starhopper, Tuesday’s test was its last. But although Starhopper will never make it to space, SpaceX plans to make use of the experimental on Earth.
“Yes, last flight for Hopper,” Musk said via Twitter on Saturday. “If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor.”
You know a spacecraft is cool when you watch it fly and can’t help but think it looks more like a bit of Hollywood CGI than an actual machine.
You know a spacecraft is cool when you watch it fly and can’t help but think it looks more like a bit of Hollywood CGI than an actual machine. The SpaceX Starhopper spacecraft was very much the real deal — a bright chrome, a 60-ft. tall, three-finned contraption powered by a single engine — when it made an exceedingly brief, 54-second flight on Aug. 27 in Boca Chica, Texas. But it still seemed whimsically imaginary.
“It almost looked like a cartoon or something,” Cheryl Stevens, a nearby resident, told Reuters.
All the same, the flight represented a tiny but very important step for the development of a much bigger spacecraft: the 180-ft. tall Starship rocket that SpaceX boss Elon Musk hopes to launch on a crewed flight around the moon as early as 2023. That’s an awfully ambitious deadline that may or may not be realistic. But the Starhopper test helped prove two critical elements of Starship hardware: the engine and the maneuvering thrusters.
NASA’s Apollo orbiter and lunar module used what are known as hypergolic fuels: a mix of hot-tempered chemicals that ignite merely by being brought into contact with each other. That eliminated the need for ignition hardware, simplifying the engine and reducing the risk of breakdowns. But hypergolics are exceedingly toxic and corrosive.
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For Starship, SpaceX is introducing a new engine, named Raptor, that uses a lighter, energy-dense mix of methane and liquid oxygen. And since SpaceX envisions landing Starship upright on its fins, much the way Starhopper did, the ship needs to be nimble, “translating,” as the engineers say, left to right and forward and back while keeping its nose straight up as its crew looks for a good landing site. Starhopper validated both systems during its admittedly modest flight, rising about 500 feet into the sky and then moving 650 feet due east before settling back down to Earth.
“Congrats SpaceX team!!” Musk tweeted when the flight was done, and then, perhaps transported by a picture of the Starhopper as it was landing, surrounded by a swirl of reddish Texas dust, he added, a follow-up, with the picture: “One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars.”
Maybe. For now, the new ship has a long way to go before it even makes a flight to Earth orbit — but Musk is pushing hard. There are two Starships currently under construction, one in Boca Chica and one in Cocoa, Florida, and Musk concedes he hopes that competition between the two teams of workers will serve as encouragement.
As for Starhopper, it will never fly again. It is slated instead to be used for what are known as static tests — engine firings with the vehicle itself locked in place and going nowhere. Those tests, SpaceX hopes, will help the next generation of Raptor-powered spacecraft do much more than hop.
Yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 26th), SpaceX conducted the second untethered test of its Starship Hopper – and nailed it! For this test, the prototype test …
Yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 26th), SpaceX conducted the second untethered test of its Starship Hopper – and nailed it! For this test, the prototype test vehicle took off from the Boca Chica test facility, ascended to an altitude of 150 m (~500 ft) and then landed again safely. This comes just a month after the first successful hop test and brings the company one step closer to tests using their full-scale prototype.
The entire event was live-streamed by SpaceX and countless spaceflight enthusiasts on social media. While the second hop test was originally scheduled to take place on Monday, Aug. 25th, the flight was scrubbed mere milliseconds before the Raptor main engine ignited. According to Musk, this was due to a wiring/connector issue with the engines torch igniters.
“Raptor uses dual redundant torch igniters,” he tweeted. “Better long-term, but more finicky in development.” He also stated that once they were inspected, they would “try again tomorrow same time.”
True to his word, the ground crews at Boca Chica made their second attempt on Tuesday, Aug. 27th, at 05:00 PM local time (03:00 PST; 06:00 EST). As you can see from the video below, the test went off without a hitch, despite the presence of high winds around the test site.
The flight lasted almost a full minute and saw the Hopper reach an altitude of 150 meters, move laterally, and then set down at a second landing pad nearby. This flight ceiling was consistent with the revised permit issued by the FAA that specified that “SpaceX may operate the Starship Hopper Vehicle for one flight without further FAA authorization, to a nominal altitude of 150 meters AGL or less.”
Originally, Musk was hoping to build on the 20 m hop test by flying the Hopper to a ceiling of 200 m (~650 ft). This may or may not have been in response to concerns raised by the local authorities about possible damage in the event of a malfunction.
These concerns led to the Cameron County Sheriff’s department telling residents of the nearby Boca Chica village to leave their homes for the duration of the test flight. Not the area, mind you, but their homes, for fear that a mishap could cause an overpressure event that would result in all the windows shattering in the area.
Concerns for public safety may be why SpaceX had increased its liability insurance exponentially, from $3 million to $100 million. It also may be related to the fact that during the previous test, the engine burn resulted in a small brush fire, which the ground crews were unable to fully quell on their own, prompting them to ask for the assistance of the local fire department.
That test, which took place on July 25th, consisted of the Hopper flying to an altitude of 20 meters (~65 feet) and diverting laterally before making a powered descent and landing. This successful test also occurred after a brief delay, this one caused by a fire (similar to one that happened about a week before during a static fire test) that began shortly after engine ignition.
Whereas the previous test was largely obscured by smoke and flames when observed from the ground, the Hopper was able to ascend high enough this time around that the vehicle and the Raptor’s beautiful, multicolored flame trail was visible for all to see. The flight was even more spectacular when viewed from above, thanks to the drone SpaceX had on-site to capture footage of the test.
Elon congratulated the SpaceX team via twitter about a half-hour after the successful test. He was also sure to add a picture of the Hopper ascending above what looks like a Martian surface, with the caption “One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars “. This was followed by the witty observation that the Starship Hopper (which has been compared to a “water tower” in the past) looks like “R2D2’s Dad”.
This all brings SpaceX one step closer to conducting flight tests using their two orbital-class Starship prototypes – the Starship Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 – which are finishing being assembled at the company’s facilities in Boca Chica and Cape Canaveral, Florida. Based on previous statements made by Musk, these prototypes could be ready to conduct suborbital test flights any day now.
Timetables are always tricky when dealing with spaceflight and space exploration, and progress is always incremental. But the strides SpaceX has taken in recent months are nothing if not impressive and certainly very encouraging. At this rate, we could very well be seeing commercial missions to the Moon and Mars during the next decade.