Between tests of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, regular launches for commercial clients, and the impending second launch of the massive Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX has a whole lot on its plate these days. Despite all that, it’s still working hard on its Starship program, which will (hopefully) one day result in a spacecraft capable of traveling throughout our solar system and maybe even to neighboring stars.
At present, the Starship itself doesn’t exist, but a small-scale version of it, called the Starhopper, does indeed exist, and it just completed a major milestone. The pint-sized spacecraft performed its first official “hop test,” firing its engines and lifting off its launch pad briefly as powerful tethers kept it from flying skyward.
A hop test isn’t like a normal rocket launch. The spacecraft isn’t ready for a trip into space just yet, but SpaceX still needs to test its engines and other vital systems to see how they respond to real-world stresses. As such, the Starhopper was tethered to its launchpad for the duration of the hop, and as Elon Musk notes in a tweet, it “hit tether limits,” which indicates that it did what it was supposed to do.
Starhopper just lifted off & hit tether limits! pic.twitter.com/eByJsq2jiw
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 6, 2019
SpaceX hasn’t said much regarding how this first hop test went, but Musk noted “all systems green,” which is a fancy way of saying that nothing broke.
— Mary (@BocaChicaGal) April 6, 2019
A full-sized version of SpaceX’s Starship won’t see action for a while yet, but this smaller test vehicle will eventually pave the way for higher test flights and eventually full-scale launches. Musk and SpaceX have bet big on Starship being the vehicle of choice for manned missions to Mars and beyond, and while there’s still a long way to go before that is a reality, progress is certainly being made.