There’s nothing small about the hop that SpaceX just accomplished on Tuesday afternoon. It does, however, signify a large leap for the company and perhaps the entire space travel industry. Elon Musk’s space-faring company just successfully got the its Starhopper prototype to make its second hop and safely land it, too. And while it is also its last test, it has opened the doors for SpaceX to start work on its true goal: the Starship that will take humans to the Moon and beyond and back home again.
Economy of space travel has always been SpaceX’s goal and, to that end, it is making sure that its rockets are not just economical but also ultimately reusable. The Falcon 9 rockets, which have already proven the latter, were just the first step. The next steps require SpaceX to aim for farther trips and, therefore, more powerful rockets.
That will come in the form the new Raptor rockets, six or seven of which will push SpaceX’s planned Starship craft away from Earth’s gravity. But first, it has to test even just one such rocket, and that’s what the Starhopper test were for, particularly the untethered “hops”.
Launching from its Boca Chica, Texas, facility, the Starhopper flew up to a height of 150 meters for about 50 seconds before safely landing. The first untethered hop made in July only saw it rise 20 meters for 22 seconds, definitely a significant jump in performance, pardon the pun. Since the Starhopper only had one rocket, it didn’t make sense for SpaceX to obsess over more such tests.
SpaceX is now turning its attention to manufacturing Starships Mk I and Mk II, simultaneously in separate locations, that will really put the Raptor engines to the test. Musk’s goal is to have those tests by the end of the year but the CEO is also expected to soon give a presentation on the changes to the Starship design to whet fans’ appetites and, of course, attract more investors in that dream that is slowly looking like a more feasible reality.