SpaceX successfully completed the first of a series of tests of its latest suborbital prototype "Starhopper" late last month.
The experiment, in which the vehicle required to be lifted loose from the launch platform at a height of 20 meters (65 feet), was carried out after numerous delays. The 22-second flight was enough for SpaceX to test Starhopper's take-off and landing capabilities.
The prototype is used to test different systems and technologies the company wants to develop to launch two stages of its large Falcon (BFR) rocket: the Super Heavy booster and a 100-man spacecraft called Starship. Additional tests are planned and the next 200m hop will be held soon. Mars 1
The journey to completing the BFR was not short. It officially launched in September 2008 with the launch of the Falcon 1, the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to reach Earth orbit. The success of the launch and the low cost helped SpaceX reach a $ 1.6 billion contract with CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) that year; the company delivers supplies and cargo to the ISS (International Space Station) and performs other tasks specified in the contract.
In 2012, SpaceX made history again with Dragon, its free-flying spacecraft, which became the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. The dragon was launched into orbit by Falcon 9 rockets that were rockets at the time.
The waste of disposable rockets was one of the major factors hampering competitiveness and growth, and SpaceX did not wait too long to fix the problem. The decision came in 2013 when the Grasshopper program ended. The insights made during the Grasshopper prototype test led to the redesign of the Falcon 9, which received the first reusable stage allowing vertical take-off and landing – a key feature that will be ported to the BFR. (The Falcon 9 still drives the Dragon spacecraft on its regular cargo delivery flights to the ISS.)
In 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX a $ 2.6 billion merchant crew contract that forced the company to upgrade the design of Dragon to Dragon 2 (also known as Crew Dragon), which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts in orbit on and off Earth.
In 2018, SpaceX made the first flight of a Falcon Heavy, which the company called "the world's most powerful factor-two missile capable of carrying large payloads in orbit and supporting missions to the moon or Mars. "This year saw the first automated docking of the Crew Dragon with the ISS, a necessary step before it can carry passengers to the ISS scheduled for November.
Big Falcon Rocket
All those breakthroughs and achievements – reusability, vertical landing, high-payload payloads, flight crews and automated docking procedures – will be included in the Big Falcon rocket. Once released, it is expected to replace the entire SpaceX fleet, including the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as the Dragon. This is because SpaceX estimates that BFR launches will be cheaper than the existing fleet due to full reuse, high capacity and precise landing characteristics of the new model. The stakes are high for the company.
SpaceX also plans for Starship to be the cornerstone of Mars colonization. To this end, many starships will be launched and left on Mars to serve the storage of equipment, spare parts and most importantly, residual rocket fuel. The accumulated fuel could eventually be used to load a rocket that would take the colonists back to Earth, turning the voyage into a return voyage instead of making Mars the final destination.
The first BFR flight is scheduled for 2020. It will be interesting to see if the Big Falcon and Star Ship will live up to expectations. Let's hope they do.
Jurica Dumovic is a MarketWatch columnist.