WASHINGTON – SpaceX has begun initial testing of the first prototype of its next-generation launch vehicle for Starship at the test site in South Texas.
The vehicle, dubbed "Starhopper," briefly lit its unique Raptor engine during a test on the platform on April 3, followed by a second test on April 5. In both cases, the engine only worked for a few seconds, and the vehicle, tied to the ground, lifted off the ground by a very short distance.
"Starhopper completed the jump tied. All green systems " Musk tweeted on April 3 after the initial test. He published a two-second video after the second test on April 6, which showed that the engine was running and that the vehicle, largely hidden by the engine's column, seemed to rise slightly from the platform. "Starhopper just took off and reached the mooring limits!" He said after the second test.
Starhopper has just taken off and hit the binding limits! pic.twitter.com/eByJsq2jiw
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 6, 2019
Starhopper is a prototype of Starship, destined to be the top stage of the fully reusable launch vehicle of the next generation of SpaceX. The vehicle that is currently being tested is only the lower section, the housing engines, the propulsion tanks and the landing gear. A top section, consisting of a nose cone, was damaged during a windstorm at the Texas site earlier this year, and SpaceX decided not to repair it for this vehicle since it is not necessary for test flights low altitude planned for him.
The vehicle will then perform a series of free flights to test its ability to take off and land vertically. In a request for a license to the Federal Communications Commission last November, SpaceX said it planned a series of test flights of the vehicle that initially ran 500 meters and then 5,000 meters. The ascending and descending nature of these tests led to the vehicle being called a "hopper" and, later, Starhopper.
The test flights have attracted the attention of both locals and space flight enthusiasts, some of whom have traveled to the site, on the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, Texas, to try to catch a glimpse of the vehicle and its testing. flight. The webcams regularly monitor the activity on the site despite the fact that, in the case of the last test conducted at the end of April 5, a dense fog made it difficult to detect anything, except the flash of the engine. Starhopper, because it was lit briefly.
Neither Musk nor SpaceX have revealed specific schedules for the upcoming test flights. Prior to the April 5 test, SpaceX submitted temporary flight restrictions with the Federal Aviation Administration in the airspace surrounding the test site at an altitude of 300 meters for several hours each day from April 5 to 7. After the April 5 test, SpaceX withdrew The Airspace Restrictions from the FAA for April 6 and 7.
Musk said last month that he is already working on the second Starship prototype, capable of reaching orbit. Eventually, SpaceX will pair Starship with a reinforcement stage called Super Heavy to place large payloads in orbit. Those vehicles are also the cornerstone of SpaceX's plans to establish a human presence on Mars as early as the 2020s.