SpaceX has once again released a video that sort of makes it seem like the science fiction of the 1950s had it right with its sleek, metallic rockets taking off and landing vertically on their fins. This time, with a groundbreaking test of a platform they’ve dubbed “Starhopper.”
Starhopper is meant to serve as a technology demonstrator for a much larger platform, SpaceX’s Starship, which will eventually be used to ferry human beings and cargo to far-flung locations like the Moon and even Mars. You’ve got to walk before you can crawl, or in rocket terms, fly before you can reach space, and that’s precisely what this 150m Starhopper test was meant to demonstrate. The vessel, which looks like the bottom portion of a larger rocket, houses a single SpaceX Raptor engine which it used to fly up into the sky before returning in a controlled descent.
One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars pic.twitter.com/EfENYVdOzM
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 27, 2019
This is reportedly the final test for the Starhopper, which used to have a dummy body installed on it that was damaged when the rocket fell over in high winds in January. According to Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla CEO, the company will now move on to testing the larger Big Falcon Rocket system, which will use a similar design to propel a much larger ship. This Starhopper isn’t being sent out to pasture, however. Instead, it will be used as a test platform for future Raptor engines.
Eventually, the SpaceX Starship will carry up to 100 people and as much as 150 tons of cargo, making it the first rocket ever developed with the specific goal of making space travel to distant worlds a possibility for more than a select few astronauts.
SpaceX has become perhaps the world’s most popular private space flight company, with a record 19 launches in 2018 alone. Those launches deployed 64 satellites, resupplied the International Space Station, and in one particularly dramatic spectacle, even flung Musk’s own Tesla Roadster out into deep space.
You can watch footage of the Starhopper test below: