On Tuesday night, in South Texas, SpaceX released its Starhopper test vehicle for the second time. During this test, he flew much higher than last month, almost straight up to 150 meters. Then, under the power of one Raptor engine, the car moved sideways for about 100 meters before controlled descent and descent into the center of landing.
From a technical point of view, the test was impressive, demonstrating thrust. and vector control of the new Raptor engine. It was the first time a large rocket engine burning a liquid-methane engine made a significant flight and appeared to be, if not entirely, successful. SpaceX engineers can gain confidence in this test as they move to complete their Starship orbital prototype designs in Texas and Florida later this year.
The test may have greater political significance. SpaceX seeks to demonstrate that Starship is a viable tool for NASA to view flying astronauts to and from the moon and other destinations. Visually, Starhopper's flight was arrested: it flew into a cloud of smoke and landed in a reddish – almost mars red – firing it at the landing spot.
Some politicians may start to notice Earlier this month, spokesman for Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican senator, told Ars: "With respect to StarX on StarX, the senator and his staff are closely watching the development and are excited about the prospects of vehicle, and the economic activity and innovation that happens as a result of Texas. "
The weather may be random – but about an hour after SpaceX tests its Starhopper vehicle, NASA Marshall Space Marshal Center tweeted three pictures of a replica of its Space Rocket Launch System, which is loading into a test bench at the Mississippi Space Center in Stennis.
"Technicians are picking up and installing a @NASA_SLS milestone in preparation for the SLS Green Run test," the NASA-based Alabama Center tweeted. manages the development of the SLS rocket.
NASA spends an eye $ 230 million to upgrade and modify the B-2 test bench for this Green Run test firing at the main stage of the SLS rocket. The rocket itself has been in development since 2011, costing about $ 14 billion and counting. the rocket could happen next year in Stennis.
In contrast, the SpaceX Starship program is moving fast. Construction of the Starhopper test vehicle – called the "Flying Water Tower" because of its appearance – began only in mid-December 2018. Engine tests began several months later, with the first 20 m flight test in July, followed by from 150m Tuesday night
SpaceX has already learned what Starhopper can do and will continue with full-size, suborbital prototypes for Starship that could make test flights later this year. The actual Starship vehicle, which will launch from Earth as a second stage of the underdeveloped Super Heavy rocket, may fly some time in 2020 or later, depending on prototype tests.
Step to Mars
easily dismiss Starhopper because of its slap design or the fact that it flies just 150 meters away. After all, what does such a test accomplish?
Perhaps an analogy can be found in the SpaceX Grasshopper test program. For the Grasshopper test, the first stage Falcon 9 fuel tank used for the qualification test was modified with the landing feet. From September 2012 to October 2013, the company flew the vehicle several times at an altitude of up to 744 meters above its McGregor, Texas facility. This may seem similarly spectacular and clunky – just less than three years later, the company has landed Falcon 9 first-stage rockets successfully on land and sea after traveling in space.
From this point of view, the two Starhopper fields should be regarded as steps toward a vehicle with potentially revolutionary capabilities, including landings and propulsion from distant worlds, including the moon and Mars. SpaceX may not get there. This project may be too difficult or may require too much funding. But to bet against a company that works as hard, fast and with as much urgency as it does is unwise.
Leaf image by Trevor Malman for Ars