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Starship Prototype successfully completes 150m hop test.

On August 4, the road to Mars took a giant step forward! SpaceX’s full-scale Starship SN5 prototype has successfully launched 150 m (approx. 492 feet) into the air.

The spacecraft was launched from SpaceX’s launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

The SN5 prototype was powered by the reusable, methane and oxygen-fueled Raptor engine.

That same engine underwent a successful static fire test on July 30.

What is the Starship?

Starship is the next-generation, deep-space rocket that SpaceX intends to build in order to conduct deep-space exploration missions. The rocket will also serve as the catalyst behind a multiplanetary human species.

It has already been selected by NASA as one of the three lunar landing systems to be part of the $35 billion Artemis program.

The program’s main goal is to land “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. 

The program’s long-term goal, however, is far bigger in both scale and scope. It aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon that enables private companies to build a lunar economy.

This sustainable presence will enable human exploration, and possible human settlement, on Mars.

A long, hard road

SpaceX spent the better part of eleven months regularly testing Starship prototypes.

Shortly after establishing Boca Chica’s launch facility, SpaceX built a prototype of the Starship design, dubbed the Starship Hopper. 

The company initially conducted a series of tethered flight tests using the Raptor engine. A tethered flight test is a type of flight testing where a machine is connected by a tether to the ground.

These tests were followed by an untethered hop test on August 28 2019.

The Starship Hopper successfully launched 150m into the air using a single Raptor engine. That test proved that the latter can be integrated into a test vehicle, and enabled SpaceX to start conducting tests with full-scale prototypes.

This is where the problems began for the company. The first three prototypes, the Mk1, SN1  and SN3, experienced blowouts during their cryogenic proof tests and were lost.

A cryogenic proof test is when a spacecraft is filled with cold liquid nitrogen to verify that its tanks can withstand flight pressures. Liquid Nitrogen has a boiling point of -195.8 °C.

The fourth prototype, the SN4, managed to pass the cryogenic proof test, only to explode during its static fire test.

Thankfully, the SN5 managed to escape the fate of its predecessors.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the successful SN5 hop test may constitute a turning point for SpaceX. It puts the company on track towards full-scale orbital testing of their future launch vehicle. The Road to Mars is now well and truly underway!

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