SpaceX Starhopper Test Delayed after Last-Minute Abort

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SpaceX Hopes to Retry Starhopper Test Today

SpaceX Starhopper, the prototype for the long-awaited Starship spacecraft, failed again on Monday. Starhopper should have launched around 500 feet into the air and made a gentle landing on terra firma using propulsion engines. However, when the countdown reached zero, the prototype’s Raptor engines failed to fire. SpaceX plans to re-test around the same time today.

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Starhopper uses a single Raptor engine, a revolutionary design that SpaceX hopes will power its flagship spacecraft, Starship. Raptor engines, however, have proven to be finicky at this stage of development—a sentiment SpaceX founder Elon Musk echoed in a Twitter statement following the abrupt launch scrub.

By the way, my favorite comment on that thread as of now is “Did you turn it off and back on again?” by @lorieve. Well played. 

The test was to take place at SpaceX’s facility near Boca Chica in south Texas. Musk chose the site for the test, apparently, based on a Twitter whim, as well—because of course he did. In any event, the clock was set to hit zero at 7:00 pm EDT. When the time came, however, Starhopper’s single Raptor engine didn’t fire. As Musk hinted in the tweet above, the problem appears to be with the ignitors. It looked for a while like SpaceX would attempt the launch again yesterday evening, but ultimately they decided to wait 24 hours.

Starship and Elon Musk’s Ultimate Dream

Starship has been in development for a few years now, and Musk has repeatedly said that his vision for the craft is to use it to ferry up to 100 passengers to and from a colony (or multiple colonies) on Mars. Development, however, has been shaky. Starhopper, the much smaller re-usable prototype has both failed and succeeded at smaller hops earlier this year. The first untethered hop for the prototype reached a height of about 60 feet.

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Musk and co. have had their share of troubles with this particular launch, though, regarding permits and other such minutiae. The FAA capped the test at 150m, though SpaceX requested a maximum height of 200m and a payload of up to 30 tons. They also reportedly sent out notices to Boca Chica residents to advise them on how best to avoid injury during the tests. If the test does not happen this evening, though, SpaceX can try again tomorrow. After that, however, things would be a lot trickier to reschedule.

The Future of Starhopper

No matter what time Starhopper actually gets off the ground for this test, Musk has said that this will be the final test for the prototype. Following this, Starhopper will retire and SpaceX engineers will turn their attention to the full-sized Starship. Currently, there are two full-sized Starship prototypes in production. SpaceX workers in Boca Chica are building one, while their counterparts in Florida are building another.  

In addition to Starhopper, SpaceX has an obligation to NASA to deliver on its long-awaited Crew Dragon capsule, so that American astronauts can stop hitching rides into space from the Russians at $82 million per seat. Unfortunately, the last news on that front featured a catastrophic failure. The failed test revealed a design flaw in the capsule’s fuel delivery system that essentially strips the Crew Dragon of everything that made it cool in the first place. The workaround for that particular design flaw means that in order to meet current NASA deadlines, Crew Dragon will have to float back down to Earth using parachutes—just like Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins did 50 years ago. “So close, yet so far away,” one might say. 

Saving Face

Meanwhile, at least publicly, anyway, Musk is focused on Starship and the mission to Mars. It’s almost like he’s focused more on what Trump Beeblebrox is saying on Twitter than what Bridenstine (you know, the F$%#ing NASA Administrator) is saying he needs. Then again, I’m not an eccentric billionaire like Elon Musk, so what the hell do I know? I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me if a story broke this afternoon about how he sleeps upside down all day and keeps Gotham City safe at night with the help of his grandfatherly butler, Alfred, and his sidekick/ward Robin. Let’s see what happens today, shall we?


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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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