It’s no secret that SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk want to go to Mars. To do so, the spaceflight company is designing a massive vehicle called Starship.
On Tuesday, Starship passed a major milestone in its development timeline. The vehicle successfully completed a 150 meter “hop” test flight from SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
It’s a big accomplishment for the Starship SN5 prototype vehicle and helps pave the way for further development. The success also washes away the bad taste of Starship’s recent test failures.
Cleared for Liftoff
Anyone looking on during Tuesday’s test flight would have seen something that closely resembles a grain silo taking off into the sky. Starship’s metallic wrapper and simple cylindrical shape make it look almost comical.
That didn’t stop the massive craft from completing its mission, though. At about 8:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the Starship SN5 prototype briefly ascended to a maximum altitude of 150 meters (492 feet). It then drifted diagonally towards a designated landing pad. Thanks to six landing legs, Starship gracefully touched down back on Earth.
In all, the test took about 45 seconds to complete. Though it seems inconsequential, the hop test is a major achievement for SpaceX.
In response to the success, CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Mars is looking real.”
That is, of course, because SpaceX plans to use the massive craft to carry people and cargo to far-away destinations like the moon and Mars.
The current barebones design is just a hint of what the craft will look like when it is ready to fly actual missions. It will eventually stand 165 feet tall and function as a second stage booster as well as a reusable launch system—something SpaceX has pretty much perfected with its Falcon 9 rocket. A SpaceX Super Heavy rocket will serve as the craft’s first stage.
Starship will be used to carry heavy loads of cargo or more than 100 passengers while ascending and landing vertically on the moon and Mars. It may even play a role in NASA’s Artemis mission, which aims to put humans back on the moon as soon as 2024.
For SpaceX, Tuesday’s Starship success couldn’t have come at a better time. It was reeling from a series of setbacks and test failures. A handful of Starship prototypes have already been destroyed during testing.
As such, the SN5 prototype is arguably its most successful to date.
No dates have been set for the next battery of Starship tests. However, Elon Musk said on Twitter that SpaceX will conduct “several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps.”
He also expressed plenty of enthusiasm for the future of human spaceflight at a NASA ceremony on Sunday to welcome back astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from the International Space Station (ISS). Musk said, “We’re going to go to the moon. We’re going to have a base on the moon.”
He added, “We’re going to send people to Mars and make life multi-planetary.”