Late Thursday night SpaceX conducted the first flight test of its next-generation Starship missile in a launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, which may one day propel people to Mars. This time, the prototype vehicle named Starhopper was supposed to stay near the house: It was supposed to start the Raptor engine, rise to a height of about 60 feet, drive a few meters sideways, and land. 19659002] When the start time came, smoke obscured any view of the rocket. But when the smoke cleared, Starhopper was back on the ground, not far from where he had started. Elon Musk confirmed the successful jump on Twitter and wrote, "Water towers can fly." near the launch pad.)
"This special jump is one of a series of tests designed to push the limits of the vehicle as fast as possible to learn as fast as we can." said a SpaceX spokesman. It is the first step toward test flights in the upper atmosphere, of which Elon Musk said that he would "hopefully" occur in the next few months.
Starship looks like it was picked directly from the pages of a pulp science fiction novel. It is spherical and clad in stainless steel and will ultimately be nearly 200 feet high. However, the water-tower-like Starhopper is much shorter: In January, strong winds crashed the nose cone of the rocket, so SpaceX decided to make the first jump without it. Needless to say, the nose cone will only be needed later when it surrounds the payload of the rocket and overcomes the destructive aerodynamic forces of higher-altitude tests.
Thursday's flight was originally scheduled to take place early last week, but a fireball The Launchpad during the test forced SpaceX to delay it. Although the video of the fireball seemed to show that Starhopper was consumed by flames, the prototype remained largely intact. As Musk said on Twitter a major advantage of stainless steel – unlike carbon fiber – was that it was "not disturbed by a little heat." Still, the company took the time to make sure everything was working normally before the second attempt.
On Wednesday, SpaceX Starhopper refueled for the first flight but completed the test just seconds after the engines were ignited. The rocket never left the ground; it was wrapped in a large cloud of smoke and flame emanating from the top of the vehicle. Although SpaceX did not reveal the cause of the mishap, there were no explosions and Starhopper was not significantly damaged.
SpaceX plans to use Starship both as a low-cost launch system for its Starlink Internet satellites and as a cargo plane for commercial customers. In the long run, Musk says, the missile is aligned with Mars. Like the company's rockets Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, Starship is also in a position to land itself after a trip into orbit. The main difference is that it possesses much more power than its predecessors.
This is due to SpaceX's new Raptor engine, which replaces the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Merlin engines. Each Merlin engine generates just over 200,000 pounds of sea-level thrust. The trial version of the Raptor engine has reached 380,000 pounds of thrust. In the future, according to Musk more than half a million pounds of thrust will be generated by upgraded versions of the Raptor engine.
Thursday's Starhopper test used only a single Raptor engine, but subsequent flights to higher altitudes will use at least three. The final version of Starship will be mounted on a Falcon Superheavy, which will feature 31 raptors. This is the double thrust of the Saturn V that launched the Apollo missions and is the most powerful rocket ever to fly. Musk, who has never promised too little said he expects the company to start producing a new Raptor engine every three days by the end of the summer.
The Starhopper flight follows two tests earlier this year, when the rocket was strapped onto the launch pad so that it stood just a few feet above the ground. At the end of last month, the Federal Aviation Administration granted SpaceX permission to conduct an "unlimited number of flights" with Starship next year. This was the last regulatory hurdle before unbounded flights could begin.
Two Starship prototypes are destined for orbit under construction in Texas and Florida. The SpaceX teams in each facility are technically in competition, but they keep each other up to date and share their knowledge of their construction techniques. It is virtually a way to test the design of the vehicle A / B, a common technique in software development that aims to shorten the production time crew program after a blast in April. He has already sold a spaceship to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who will fly around the moon in 2023 with a group of artists. What happens next is anyone's guess, but Musk has his sights fixed on Mars. Soon enough he has the rocket he needs to get there.