WASHINGTON – After months of delays and test setbacks, a prototype of the next generation spaceX Starship reusable launch vehicle made a short hop flight on August 4 at the company’s test site in southern Texas.
The Starship SN5 vehicle, powered by a single Raptor engine, started shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern at the SpaceX site in Boca Chica, Texas. The flight should reach a height of 150 meters, although SpaceX did not disclose the exact height of the vehicle.
After flying a short distance sideways, it landed on a nearby pad about 45 seconds after takeoff. Six landing legs, hidden under the apron surrounding the engine compartment, were deployed shortly before landing.
Spaceship flies pic.twitter.com/IWvwcA05hl
̵1; SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 5, 2020
The test seemed to have some minor issues. The video of the flight released by SpaceX showed some debris flying after takeoff from the launch pad, while part of the Raptor engine appeared to be on fire as the vehicle descended. Neither seemed to affect the flight of the vehicle.
Elon Musk, Chief Executive of SpaceX, was satisfied with the test. “Mars looks real,” he wrote in a series of tweets shortly after the flight, referring to its long-term goal of going to Mars to make humanity multi-planetary. “Progress is accelerating.”
However, this test flight was months behind the schedule Musk set last September. “This thing will take off, fly and come back and land at 65,000 feet, about 20 kilometers in about a month or two,” he said at an event in Boca Chica, referring to a prototype known as Mark 1 behind him.
However, this prototype was destroyed in a tank test last November. Three other Starship prototypes were destroyed in later tests, including the SN4 vehicle, which exploded on May 29 after a static fire test.
At the event last September, Musk vowed that he had now reached orbit with the vehicle. “It will sound totally crazy, but I think we want to try to get into orbit in less than six months,” he said, a schedule he thought was “accurate within a few months.”
Around the time of this event, SpaceX was criticized by NASA for apparently paying more attention to Starship than its commercial crew vehicle, Crew Dragon, which the agency anticipated would be completed to enable SpaceX to return to the United States.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine bluntly expressed his concern in a tweet the day before this event last September. “Commercial crew was years behind schedule. NASA expects the same enthusiasm for the American taxpayer’s investment. It’s time to deliver. “
SpaceX delivered the Demo 2 mission, which successfully flew two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and brought them back to Earth on August 2 after a two-month mission. Bridenstine said he was pleased and remembered these earlier comments.
“I want to tell you, Elon, you responded absolutely brilliantly,” said Bridenstine at a ceremony on August 2nd at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center to welcome the astronauts again. “They delivered everything each of us would have expected.”
Musk was at the same event and described the successful Demo 2 flight as the beginning of a “new era in space exploration” in which he went to the moon and Mars. “We will go to the moon. We’ll have a base on the moon. We will send people to Mars and make life multi-planetary, ”he said.
SpaceX has not released details of upcoming tests, although the Federal Aviation Administration’s temporary flight restrictions to support hop testing will remain in effect until August 6. “We’ll do several short jumps to smooth the takeoff, and then fly to great heights with body flaps,” Musk tweeted.