The test version of SpaceX's next-generation spacecraft, the star ship, successfully launched the engine for the first time today – even though the vehicle was not far off. Ignition is a test known as a static fire designed to test the engine while the vehicle remains connected to the Earth. However, today's test marked the first time this car started its engine, and this could pave the way for short "hop" flights in the near future.
This particular car, called Starhopper, is designed to test the technology and basic design of the ultimate Star Ship – a giant passenger spacecraft that SpaceX does to take people to the Moon and Mars. The star-shaped stainless steel ship would have to shoot in deep space at the top of the massive Super Heavy Booster, which will be able to land back on Earth after taking off, similar to SpaceX's current Falcon 9 rocket fleet. And when it is completed, the combined spacecraft / super heavy should be able to put up to 220,000 pounds (1
SpaceX released the full version of the Raptor engine for the first time in February. Over the past four months, SpaceX has built Starhopper at the Boca Chica facility, an area that the company plans to turn into a commercial site. Workers transported the car to a test site for launch in early March and then recently attached the Raptor engine to its bottom.
Boca Chika's inhabitants got flying a few weeks ago, telling them of an upcoming test, and warned them that there might be road closures. However, this is a little game of wait, as SpaceX has been patient with the test. The company regularly fills Starhopper with a propeller over the past few weeks to check how fueling procedures can be made, but SpaceX eventually waited until tonight to start the engine. Based on footage from the live test, it looks like the ignition lasted only a few seconds.
At present, the Starhopper has only one Raptor engine attached to its bottom that will not take the car very high, according to Musk. , "The first hops will rise, but barely," he writes . It is possible that today's ignition has led the Starhopper a few inches from the ground, although the Teers probably prevented him from getting too high.
In the end, the plan is to put three engines on the vehicle to make much higher "hops". would take the car at a low altitude in the atmosphere before slowly descending the ship on the ground. Similar tests were also carried out on a test version of SpaceX's Falcon 9, called Grasshopper, in 2012 and 2013 to test the landing technique the company used after most of the launchers. Ultimately, Starhopper is designed to do the same, to test the strength of the ship and its ability to land on other worlds, such as the Moon or Mars.
The Starhopper has the same cylindrical shape as the Starship, and the same three landing legs that will have the last spacecraft. However, it is a bit shorter than Starship, which will have seven engines instead of three. Starhopper also misses an important part: the top half. At the end of last year SpaceX built the top of the tested vehicle, but in January the strong winds in Texas made this part of the Starhopper fall and crush. At that time, Musk said it would take several weeks to repair. In the end, SpaceX decided to abandon the construction of a new top half for these hop tests, and Musk claims the company does not need that.
It's not clear how many jumps are made by SpaceX. Musk argues that the first orbital flight of the Star ship can happen in early 2020, although the Chief Executive has a history of making optimistic deadlines that rarely occur on time. At the same time, SpaceX will build both the Star Ship and the Super Heavy both in Boca Chica and Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the company runs most of its missiles. Musk also said that SpaceX worked to obtain regulatory approval to fly from both sites .