Prototype of SpaceX’s future Starship rocket flies short hop to 500 feet

SpaceX’s Starship prototype during the test hop, recorded by LabPadre’s livestream
Image: Screenshot from LabPadre livestream

Just two days after returning its first astronauts back to Earth, SpaceX successfully flew a prototype of its next-generation, deep-space rocket in south Texas, sending the vehicle up to 500 feet and then landing it back down on Earth. It’s the largest test version of the massive spaceship to see some air.

The prototype is that of SpaceX’s Starship, a spacecraft the company wants to build to transport people to deep-space worlds like the Moon and Mars. The final version of the spaceship would stand at nearly 400 feet high and 30 feet wide, and be capable of sending more than 100 tons of cargo into low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX. Starship is designed to fly to space mounted on top of a giant rocket booster, known as Super Heavy, and both vehicles will be powered by SpaceX’s new powerful rocket engine, called Raptor.

The prototype that flew today is still a far cry from Starship’s final form. Only one Raptor engine, mounted on the base of the vehicle, carried it into the air, whereas the final version of Starship is designed to host six main Raptor engines. Starship will also sport a nosecone at its top, while this prototype had a weighted block on its head to simulate mass.

However, today’s success marks a big turning point for SpaceX, which had not been having good luck with its Starship testing over the past year. Prior to this test, four of SpaceX’s previous Starship prototypes either exploded, burst, or imploded before they could actually fly. This is the first larger-scale prototype to not only take flight but to survive early testing.

Today’s flight, often referred to as “hop,” is meant to test out controlled takeoff and landing of the vehicle. Starship is designed to do propulsive landings on other worlds, using its onboard engines to gently lower itself down to the surface of the Moon or perhaps Mars one day. It’s a technique similar to how SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rockets after flight. This short hop showed that vehicle similar in size and shape to Starship could launch and then land back down again, at least from a low altitude.

SpaceX has actually flown a Starship prototype on a short hop before, though it was very different than the one that flew today. A little less than a year ago, the company sent a much smaller version of Starhip, nicknamed Starhopper, up to 500 feet before landing it back down again. That vehicle had a significantly different shape, with CEO Elon Musk likening it to a water tower. Today’s Starship prototype resembles more of a grain silo.

It’s possible that this prototype could fly again after today. However, SpaceX has already created a sixth prototype, and the company has been quickly developing new vehicles for testing every few months. Eventually, SpaceX will attempt to perform flights that go much higher than 500 feet, and the company will add more hardware to its prototypes, including more Raptor engines.

Comments

A little less than a year ago, the company sent a much smaller version of Starhip, nicknamed Starhopper, up to 500 feet before landing it back down again. That vehicle had a significantly different shape,

Hopper was a battleship stage constructed quite heavily, far too heavily to serve as a useful part of an orbital launch system.

SN5 is flight weight, and essentially identical in construction and materials to the Starships that will go to orbit and Mars.

yes but there moving to better alloys sn8 is ready to be assembled made of 304L these are good first step wishing them the best

cutting it down to 1/3 the thickness has a lot more impact than switching to a slightly different alloy. also, while 304 will have better corrosion resistance, it’s actually not quite as strong as 301.

this is how it’s supposed to look if it doesn’t undergo another design change
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rakeO-amPEk

Has anyone heard of SLS lately?… anyone?…

It’s not even scheduled for first flights before 2022…
Nasa’s SLS is the biggest fraud and waste of tax payer’s money in the history of the country.
The fact SpaceX is not being awarded the majority of the contracts, let alone all the contracts for deep space missions is blasphemous.

I don’t get this random pooping on SLS in a post about Starship hop tests. They are very different things. It’s also weird to blame NASA when there is plenty of blame to go around elsewhere too. Why not praise NASA for partially funding SpaceX’s Starship development? Really odd take.

I don’t get this random pooping on SLS in a post about Starship hop tests. They are very different things.

I think it’s perfectly fair, as they are a similar class of vehicles, with (very) roughly competing payload capacity to LEO, together with New Glenn.

It’s also weird to blame NASA when there is plenty of blame to go around elsewhere

Agreed, Congress (Shelby) is significantly more responsible for the (firmly grounded) dumpster fire that is SLS. And Boeing is also to blame, but at this point you almost feel bad for them, given how many things they are screwing up recently. They’re quickly becoming the senile grandparent of the aerospace family.

Why not praise NASA for partially funding SpaceX’s Starship development?

Agreed, but admittedly SpaceX was already building prototypes in Boca Chica well before that small funding happened, so it doesn’t feel like NASA is moving the needle in any meaningful way there. I’d just focus on NASA’s role to SpaceX’s existence as a whole.

SLS is not a "similar class of vehicle", the SLS currently being built by NASA is more like SpaceX’s BFR which is supposed to take Starship into space on day. BFR is basically still on paper.

The most analogous thing to SN-5 in the SLS system is the CS-1 core stage currently being readied for testing at Stennis. Like Starship, the core stage reaches orbit. It has 4 engines about the same size as the 6 Raptors on Starship. The SLS core stage and Starship also have similar gross and burnout mass.

The SLS solid boosters are equivalent to Starship’s SuperHeavy booster in function, but quite a bit smaller in thrust, mass, and size.

Except no. See Blackhawk49348 comment for details

It’s weird to say that the more capable Starship+Super Heavy is not in the same class of rocket as the less capable SLS (especially the Block 1 variant, which is probably the only one that will ever fly). Normally you’d say it the other way around.

Bloated, pork driven Federal Agency Nasa has wasted 5 decades and >$500 billion on one manned space dead end, unaffordable, unsustainable pork boondoggle after another… blame NASA, not the contractors or congress or senators or presidents or Shelby or taxpayers…
We were fools to entrust American space to Government..
Finally Musk & Bezos said FU NASA, we’ll do it ourselves.

Well, the pork boondoggles were the only thing that congress would approve, and you voted those people into congress. Let’s choose more space-friendly congressmen next time (even though they might not force NASA to add a special ‘manufactured in Somewhere, Ohio’ part into a next space rocket just to create 0.5 jobs in their district).

that’s stupid. NASA also supported SpaceX all the way.

NASA is imperfect but most blame is to go to the politicians, definitely not NASA.

I’m sure Bridenstine would pull the plug on SLS in a heartbeat… if only he could

I wish Issac Asimov was here to see all this.

Starhip needs to be corrected.

Hip hop.

Quote – "However, today’s success marks a big turning point for SpaceX, which had not been having good luck with its Starship testing over the past year. "

This statement is incorrect. The explosions have been a part of the development program and were and still are expected as a trade-off for fast iteration development. It has been a successful year of development with the expected number of explosions required to attain the current rate of development progress. Characterizing explosions as failures or setbacks is deceptive.

It is a better narrative to paint the program as struggling and this is a first big win. Don’t blame the verge. All modern news is about driving and fitting to a narrative. Also the more pessimistic the narrative the better it seems.

Even for SpaceX though, it’s rare to see this many explosions in a row. I think it’s fair to point that out.

One can be optimistic about outcomes, like Musk on that press conference in Boca Chica last year, but the reality is a different beast. I’m actually amazed so few things have gone wrong so far. And not all of them were explosions either.

Rubbish- they are doing things that no-one else has ever done before. It cannot be rare when nothing like it has ever been done before.

I agree, they already i think are building test bed number 8….in this case failure is a feature and a learning opportunity put to good use.

You can only do so much in CAD, real life testing is necessary and that way they do as much as possible.

I guess it’s not an explosion it’s a rapid unplanned disassembly.

a big turning point for SpaceX, which had not been having good luck with its Starship testing over the past year. Prior to this test, four of SpaceX’s previous Starship prototypes either exploded, burst, or imploded before they could actually fly.

Utter, utter drivel. Typical though for The Verge and Gush. Not having good luck would look like this: no test articles explode, but on the first passenger-carrying flight the system suffers a catastrophic explosion with the loss of all passengers. The cause was later found to be due to a simple error in manufacturing that was not tested at prototype stage.
If you are not breaking things in testing then you are not testing hard enough. Tanks rupturing and RUDs are a 100% sign of hard work (not luck!) in the testing phase as it shows that they are identifying and fixing the very things that people will end up trusting their lives with.

The Verge can always be relied on for a snarky dig at anything Tesla/SpaceX related, so I guess that this is no exception.

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