SpaceX Starhopper rocket prototype takes giant leap for Elon Musk

GIF by Alexandra Able/The Techy Trends

After a few false starts, the prototype of Elon Musk’s Mars rocket made a spectacular but short flight on Tuesday.

The Starhopper single-engine version of the SpaceX Starship rose nearly 150 meters over the Texas coast before coming back down for a soft landing. SpaceX livestreamed the event, which starred what looked a little like a small water tower or perhaps a giant R2-D2 rising above the Gulf coast for less than a minute.

“Congrats SpaceX team!!” Musk tweeted. 

Starhopper is the first test prototype for a next-generation spacecraft Musk plans to use to send people around the moon and to Mars in the next decade. 

After the flight, a few observant viewers on Twitter noted that the hopper seemed to lose a few of its parts during its brief hop. 

Starhopper’s first attempt at a long hop was aborted at the last second on Monday. The test had already been pushed back from earlier in August. Musk cited a wiring or connector issue with the igniters as the reason for the Monday delay.

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Prior to both the Monday and Tuesday scheduled test times, residents near the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, facility were warned that a potential malfunction could unleash pressure waves strong enough to break windows in the area. Locals were advised to vacate all buildings and bring their pets outside during the test window to avoid the risk of flying glass.

The small test version, which looks something like a flying water tower (as noted by Musk himself) previously performed a brief hover at a height of 20 meters (66 feet) after dark on July 25.

Musk has said this will be the final test flight for this particular prototype, and that it will be converted into a test stand for Starship’s Raptor engines.

With this last test of Starhopper in the books, Musk has said his next move will be to hold a presentation to update the world on the design of Starship and any changes to his plans for the biggest SpaceX rocket yet. Musk has said the final Starship will have a total of six or seven engines and be paired with a new SpaceX Super Heavy rocket, creating a launch system to rival the Saturn V rocket that carried NASA astronauts to the moon.

In previous years, Musk has shared plans to use the super heavy launcher (also previously known as BFR or Big Falcon Rocket) to help setup shop on Mars, send artists on a trip around the moon and even provide transcontinental flights via orbit on Earth.  

Originally published Aug. 26.  
Update, Aug. 27, 3:09 p.m. PT: Adds that Starhopper made its hop. 
Update, Aug. 27, 4:01 p.m. PT:
Adds more details on the successful launch.