The Starhopper—a small prototype of the reusable Starship spacecraft being developed by space transportation company SpaceX—is set for a test launch this week. The launch confirmation was made last week by SpaceX chief Elon Musk in a post on Twitter.
Starhopper is an experimental rocket ship that has been designed to test key components of the space technology that will eventually make up the larger Starship spacecraft. SpaceX says that the Starhopper launch will enable teams working on the Starship to learn as quickly as possible.
The California-based SpaceX is developing the Starship to be a reusable and powerful spacecraft that will be capable of traveling over long interplanetary distances. Since SpaceX aims to play an important part in future trips to the moon and the exploration of the planet Mars, Starship could be the vehicle that carries humans into space for these missions.
Here’s What We Know so Far About SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Starhopper
Starhopper is small, measuring only 60 feet by 40 feet. Compared to the prototype, the Starship is expected to be much larger. The final Starship launch system could be as tall as 400 feet, reports Business Insider. The system would be capable of transporting at least 100 passengers and 100 tonnes of cargo to different bodies in the solar system.
Since Starhopper is only a test vehicle for the Starship, it is powered by just one of the Raptor engine used by SpaceX on its latest space launch systems. In comparison, the Starship will probably have six engines, and the rocket that will carry the spacecraft into orbit, named Falcon Heavy, is expected to fly with at least 35 Raptor engines onboard, Musk revealed earlier this week.
To ensure quality control, SpaceX carries out a series of tests on vehicles before the final launch. With Starhopper, SpaceX successfully carried out a tethered test in April this year. The Starhopper was fastened to the ground with powerful cables and the Raptor engine was fired to allow it to lift only a few inches off the ground.
In a second test carried out last week, the Starhopper successfully negotiated a static-fire engine check to pave the way for a hover test soon after. However, a post-test fuel leak engulfed the Starhopper in flames, delaying the hover test. The hover test, in which the Starhopper will go 60 feet in the air before landing back, has been scheduled later this week.
The Starhopper hover launch will test the limits to which SpaceX vehicle can be stretched, a spokesperson for SpaceX told Business Insider. The success of the test could provide valuable feedback about the status of the Starship development and whether the spacecraft design can withstand wear-and-tear traveling over long interplanetary distances.
Why Is Starhopper Important for SpaceX’s Lunar and Mars Missions?
The Starship prototype was envisioned as a reusable spacecraft. If it can demonstrate that capability later this week, it would mean that SpaceX could build a space vehicle that can be used for multiple space missions. This would bring down the total cost of transporting cargo and humans to space, boosting the chances of lunar tourism and the exploration of planet Mars.
The success of engine tests on the Starhopper would also pave the way for the accelerated development of Starship. Billed as the most powerful space launch system ever, the Starship could speed up interplanetary travel for humans, marking another key step in the long journey to explore the planet Mars, and maybe indicating the possibility of frequent trips to the moon.