Despite a few setbacks in the past few months, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for SpaceX. After a series of successful tethered hop tests, the ground crews at the company’s South Texas Launch Site in Boca Chica conducted the first free-flight test of the Starship Hopper late last month – which saw the test vehicle ascend to 20 meters (~65 feet), move laterally, and then land again.
Based on this success, Musk announced shortly thereafter that the company could be taking the next step and conducting a 200 meter (650 foot) hop sometime this month. This past weekend, Musk also indicated that the company will be giving further updates on the design of the finished Starship later this month, followed by a test of the “Starship Mk1”, an orbital-class prototype that will feature three Raptor engines.
Score one for SpaceX! Last night (Thursday, July 25th), after multiple delays that were causing no shortage of stress and concern, Elon Musk’s aerospace company succeeded in conducting their first untethered test with the Starhopper. This test once again validated the engine that will power the full-scale and fully-reusable Starship and its Super Heavylaunch system that will fulfill Musk’s promise of sending people to the Moon and to Mars.
Yesterday, on Wednesday, July 24th, the prototype test vehicle for the Starship (the Starhopper) commenced its first untethered “hop test” at the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. This test is an important milestone for SpaceX, intended to validate the Raptor engine in free flight and bring the company one step closer to creating the super-heavy launch system that will allow for trips to the Moon and Mars.
Unfortunately, the ground team was forced to abort the test due to a fire that began shortly after engine ignition. This comes shortly after a static fire test that took place last Tuesday, July 16th where the newly-installed Raptor engine erupted in a sudden and unexpected fireball. Though no damage appears to have been caused (again, thankfully!), this latest flare-up represents another technical glitch and another delay for the Starship.
The year of 2019 has not been very kind to SpaceX so far. Back in April, the company lost one of its new Crew Dragon capsules when an explosion occurred during a static firing test of their In-Flight Abort test vehicle. Earlier this week, the company revealed that they had determined the cause of the explosion, saying that it was due to a nitrogen tetroxide leak that occurred just prior to the final test.
And now, just a few days later, another accident has occurred, this time involving the Starhopper test vehicle. Once again, a fire occurred shortly after the vehicle conducted an engine test; fortunately, it resulted in no injuries. However, the Starhopper appears to have come through the fire completely unscathed, though it might cause a slight delay with the vehicle’s scheduled hop tests.