In a dramatic late afternoon test, the SpaceX Starhopper suborbital test vehicle completed a 150-meter hop. The flight is expected to be the Starhopper’s last with SpaceX planning to convert the vehicle into a vertical test stand for the company’s Raptor engine.
The stout Starhopper vehicle powered by a single methane-fueled Raptor engine sprang to life at 22:02 UTC (17:02 local time) yesterday. It soared skyward to its FAA-approved 150 meter (492-foot) altitude limit shimmied to side and touched down on a nearby landing pad. The test was the Starhopper’s second successful flight following a 20-meter (65-feet) hop test in July.
The test had initially been scheduled some weeks ago. However, SpaceX was delayed with an FAA flight approval process that ballooned the insurance the company was required to hold for the test from $3 million to $100 million. The insurance bump was due to the vehicle’s potential to damage surrounding infrastructure, which includes the Boca Chica Village located just a few kilometers from the test site. Residents of the village were reportedly asked to evacuate their homes during the test as a precautionary measure.
With the completion of the 150-meter flight test, the Starhopper vehicle will be retired. According to SpaceX founder and CEO Ellon Musk, the vehicle will be converted into “a vertical test stand for Raptor”, the company’s next-generation methane-fueled rocket engine.
The success of the Starhopper vehicle is the latest step forward in the development of the SpaceX super heavy-lift rocket, Starship. The vehicle is a two-stage rocket consisting of the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage. The Starship vehicle will, however, also be capable of launching payloads to orbit independently without the need for the Super Heavy booster.
Work on the first two orbital prototypes of the Starship vehicle has already begun. The first is being constructed at the Boca Chica site and the other at an industrial site in Cocoa, Florida. According to Musk, SpaceX hopes to launch the first test flight of a Starship prototype before the end of the year.