A week after a fireball erupted from the base of SpaceX’s prototype “StarHopper” rocket during a static-fire test at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility, the company’s first “untethered” test launch of the craft was aborted after encountering technical difficulties on Thursday, CNBC reported.
During the test, the rocket was supposed to fire its engines just long enough to lift it approximately 20 metres in the air. According to CNBC, while the rocket’s Raptor engine did begin to fire, it did not lift off the ground and “an enduring flame shot skywards near the top of the rocket.” TechCrunch noted that the prototype rocket appeared “relatively unscathed” after the incident.
“It appears as though we have had an abort on today’s test. As you can see there, the vehicle did not lift off today,” SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said during a livestream of the test flight. “As I mentioned before, this is a development program, today was a test flight designed to test the boundaries of the vehicle.”
According to CNBC, the failed test was the first time SpaceX had allowed official footage to be taken of the Starship development process. The company has said that the test last week did not damage the rocket significantly, with Musk crediting the lack of damage to its stainless-steel design.
The Starhopper is just a prototype for SpaceX’s planned Starship rocket, which the company claims will one day ferry colonists to Mars with the help of a Super Heavy booster powered by 35 Raptor engines. (CEO Elon Musk’s interplanetary ambitions have run into criticism from scientists.) Space.com reported that while Starhopper already completed two brief “tethered” hops in April 2019, and the craft’s main Raptor engine has undergone ground testing, this was to be the first untethered test using the craft’s own guidance system and the Raptor engine firing at 80 per cent capacity.
Even if Mars colonisation is not in the cards, the Starship craft is planned to be fully reusable and thus reduce the cost of launches below that of SpaceX’s partially reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, TechCrunch wrote. SpaceX has also sold tickets for a proposed voyage around the moon on the vessel to Japanese billionaire and fashion magnate Yusaku Maezawa, with Musk saying that Maezawa is “paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster.”
According to NASA Spaceflight, SpaceX may try again on Friday, but the company hasn’t officially confirmed that yet.