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SpaceX’s Starhopper completed its first mini-launch ‘hop’

Published Apr 8th, 2019 2:42PM EDT

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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.

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.

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.