SpaceX’s flambéed Starhopper may have ended its rocket test this week with an unexpected fireball, but Elon Musk says the spaceship escaped okay in the end. The so-called static fire test, in which the craft is tethered down to prevent it taking off under the rocket’s power, turned into a dramatic flare-up that wasn’t intended.
The goal had been to give the new Raptor engine another run-through, a prototype of the rocket engine technology that SpaceX plans to use on the Starship pegged to eventually take astronauts to Mars. The Raptor has a few advantages over the current rockets SpaceX uses on the Falcon 9, but most notable is probably the fact that it has twice the thrust as the current Merlin 1D engine.
Unfortunately something went wrong along the way. A few seconds into the static fire test, Starhopper was engulfed in flames, as this video from Everyday Astronaut shows. The blaze continued for around four minutes.
According to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the cause of the fire was a post test fuel leak. Responding on Twitter to concerns about the testing, he downplayed the severity of the burn. Starhopper sustained “no major damage,” Musk said.
The spaceship is a smaller version of the eventual Starship, that supports up to three Raptor engines. The SpaceX Starship is, in contrast, designed to sport six such rockets. However while it may be smaller, it’s still built to be resilient, with a body made from high-strength stainless steel. As such, Musk pointed out, it’s “not bothered by a little heat!”
The lingering question after the ferocious end to this week’s test was how Starhopper’s next big trial might be impacted. So far, all of the rocket test burns have been performed under tethered conditions, the craft fixed to the ground. That includes April’s first “hop” flight, which was carried out without issue.
Next up, though, is an untethered test. That’s expected to see Starhopper rise and hover at around 65 feet above the ground, but there had been concerns that this fiery incident might derail that timeline.
Musk, though, seems unconcerned. Space is still “aiming for hover test next week,” he said on Twitter.