SpaceX is spinning a lot of plates these days — from various contracts with NASA to agreements with many smaller clients to launch various satellites and spacecraft into Earth orbit — but its Starship project is definitely one of its biggest bets on the future.
Starship is SpaceX’s long-term project to produce a spacecraft that can make it to the Moon, and then eventually Mars and beyond. The company envisions future versions of Starship traveling out of our solar system entirely, but first, it has to get off the ground. In a test on Thursday night, the Starship prototype Starhopper did indeed leave solid ground, but that’s about all it did.
Built specifically to test the technology that will eventually power the larger Starship variants, Starhopper has fired its engines before but never hovered without a tether before this week. The flight was brief, and it’s unclear if the spacecraft nailed its expected height of 65 feet, but it did indeed fly.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted out a brief clip of the test, apparently shot with a camera-equipped drone:
Drone cam pic.twitter.com/gVdMrMgUZq
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 26, 2019
With this successful test in the books, SpaceX will reportedly target another hop test at a height of 650 feet in the weeks to come.
The successful test was conducted just a day after a previous hop test was called off at the last possible second. In that test, conducted on Wednesday, the spacecraft’s engines actually fired up for a few seconds before SpaceX pulled the plug. The abort was necessary due to an issue with fuel temperature and pressure, Musk later said.
SpaceX is bullish on the full-scale Starship eventually being the go-to vehicle for sending human travelers to Mars. The company has even dreamt up concepts of entire settlements based on regular flights to and from the planet using multiple Starship vehicles.
For the moment, however, a brief hop is as good as it gets, and Starhopper pulled it off.