'Mars is looking real': SpaceX's Starship prototype SN5 aces key 'hop' towards interplanetary travel

tech2 News Staff
·3 min read

SpaceX's full-scale Starship prototype, the SN5, has successfully completed its first 150-m "hop" test, where its engines fired and lifted the spacecraft into the air for about 40 seconds before returning to land on its designated landing site. This is the first time in a year that a Starship prototype has flown, after many iterations of the Mars spacecraft hit roadblocks in tests of its engine or pressurization.

The stainless-steel SN5 lifted itself into the air at around 11.57 pm GMT on (5.27 am IST), travelled slightly sideways in a brief, uncrewed flight before deploying its landing legs and sticking its landing as planned, according to a >Space.com report.

The successful hop comes after two attempts to launch were aborted this week. Following a minor delay from 2 August to 3 August, SpaceX kicked off the SN5 hop test relatively late in the 12-hour window. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the once-delayed hop test on 3 August was scrubbed again after a turbopump valve in the engine didn't open right, triggering an automatic abort sequence.

Engineers at SpaceX's Boca Chica test facility are in the middle of prepping their fifth prototype of the Starship spacecraft (SN5) for its first 150 m "hop", where the engines fire long enough to lift the spacecraft 150 metres above the surface in a real-world test of the engine's thrust.

The Starship prototype passed an important cryogenic pressure test on 1 July, and was fitted with its Raptor engine (SN27) thereafter. It also completed a static fire test on 31 July, as per a tweet from Musk, paving the way for the 150-m hop this week.

SN5 didn't meet the fiery fate as its earlier iteration, the SN4, which exploded in a massive fireball during an engine test on 29 May 2020. This makes SN5 the first successful full-scale Starship prototype to pass its hop test, after a smaller version of the spacecraft, a year after the "Starhopper" passed its 150-m hop in August 2019.

Over the course of its relatively rapid development, the Starship spacecraft has seen a mix of successes and failures that have collectively brought it closer to a much-anticipated test flight around the Moon in 2023.

Elon Musk's hopes for Starship to reach orbit by spring (May 2020) didn't pan out, but its first flight could mean its orbital flight could be by the end of the year.

SpaceX has had a very busy week. On 2 August, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returned from the International Space Station (ISS) on the same Crew Dragon capsule that carried them to space two months earlier. This first success of a crewed mission from US soil in almost a decade (in the SpaceX Demo-2 mission) signals that NASA has once again restored the capability to launch astronauts to space from its home turf.

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