SpaceX’s Starship has taken flight once again, although it’s not heading into space quite yet. The latest Starship prototype has completed another 150-meter hop test, proving that its engine works correctly and setting the stage for a promised high-altitude test flight.
The Starship started life as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), but it got a name change in 2018 with an increased focus on Mars and lunar missions. SpaceX even signed up Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to take the first jaunt around the moon in the Starship. That mission is still loosely scheduled for sometime in the next few years.
Before the Starship can go to Mars or the moon, it has to ace these early tests. It started with a smaller prototype called Starhopper, which took to the skies in 2019. This vessel harkens back to the Grasshopper rocket that demonstrated the Falcon 9’s vertical take-off and landing capabilities. After Starhopper, SpaceX moved on to full-sized prototypes of the rocket, starting with the SN1 in late 2019. That vessel didn’t make it to a test flight, but the SN5 used a Raptor engine to fly to 150 meters and land. This was the first free flight test for the Starship and the Raptor engine.
SpaceX’s SN6 prototype is the newest currently operating version of the spacecraft. Showing that it can match the last rocket is an understandable first step, but the real test will be the upcoming high-altitude test. Before that can happen, it has to stop looking so much like a grain silo. According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the Starship will need a nose cone and fins before it heads up for its next milestone launch to around 20 kilometers, but the SN6 might never get them.
Second 150m flight test of Starship pic.twitter.com/ROa0kQZXLI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 4, 2020
SpaceX hasn’t specified which vehicles will fly from one test to the next. It might retire both SN5 and SN6 in favor of SN8 or SN9 for the full high-altitude rocket treatment. The company’s engineers will do whatever gets them closer to a working Starship that can fly multiple times per day and reach targets far out in the solar system.
Eventually, the Starship will mate with a lift vehicle called Super Heavy. Together, that will give the Starship enough power to reach the moon, Mars, and other distant objects. SpaceX has also suggested using the Starship for transportation across the surface of Earth. Maybe this will all come to fruition someday, but right now the focus is on the 20KM test.
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