SpaceX’s plans to build a reusable rocket capable of landing on the Moon and Mars took a major leap forward on Tuesday, following the first successful test of the Starship system.
Starship made its inaugural test flight shortly before 8:00 pm ET on Tuesday August 4 at the SpaceX Boca Chica facility in Texas, reports SpaceNews.
After a brief vertical ascent, the Starship SN5 vehicle drifted diagonally towards its intended landing pad, reaching a maximum altitude of 492 feet (150 meters), according to SpaceX. The prototype then unfurled its six landing legs and performed a smooth landing. With its metallic wrapper and cylindrical shape, it appeared as if a steel grain silo had suddenly taken to the skies.
The whole thing took no longer than 45 seconds, but this first free-flying leap, or hop test, marks a major achievement for the private space company. Heartened by the test, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to social media: “Mars is looking real,” he tweeted.
The Starship SN5 prototype, with its lone Raptor engine, is a bare-boned version of its eventual incarnation. Eventually, Starship will stand 165 feet tall (50 meters) and function as both the second stage of a reusable launch system and as a stand-alone spacecraft (a SpaceX Super Heavy rocket will serve as the first stage). Should Musk’s vision be realized, Starship will be capable of landing and ascending vertically on either the Moon or Mars, deliver supplies and cargo, and even carry upwards of 100 passengers.
The spacecraft has an outside chance of serving as NASA’s astronaut landing system for the upcoming Artemis mission, which is seeking to land humans on the Moon as early as 2024.
Yesterday’s successful hop follows a series of setbacks and delays for the company, as several Starship prototypes were destroyed during testing. Starship SN5 is an extension of Starhopper—an engine test bed—which reached a height of 150 meters in August of 2019.
No dates have been set for the next series of Starship test flights, but as Musk explained in a tweet, the company will conduct “several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps.”
SpaceX is now on a bit of roll. In addition to this successful test, the company is basking in the recently completed NASA Demo-2 mission, in which astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Splashdown of the capsule happened on August 2 in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re going to go to the Moon. We’re going to have a base on the Moon,” declared Musk at a NASA ceremony held this past Sunday to welcome back the astronauts. “We’re going to send people to Mars and make life multiplanetary.”