Starhopper completes successful 150-meter flight

At one minute past 5 p.m. on Tuesday, SpaceX flew its Starhopper test vehicle to an altitude of 150 meters, about 500 feet, at the company’s Boca Chica Beach launch/test site.

The successful hop came a day after SpaceX aborted the planned launch on Monday with less than one second to go, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk blamed on ignition issues.

Tuesday’s flight, which lasted 57.36 seconds, saw the hopper lift off amid billowing fire and dust, hover atop a column of blue and orange flame from the craft’s single liquid-oxygen and -methane powered Raptor engine, and manuever sideways to a smooth touchdown on a nearby landing pad.

About half an hour after the flight, Musk tweeted, “Congrats SpaceX team!!” along with a still shot of Starhopper in flight.

The event was live-streamed by SpaceX as well as by Everyday Astronaut and LabPadre on YouTube.

Tuesday’s flight was a follow-up to Starhopper’s 60-foot hop on July 25. SpaceX had planned for the vehicle to reach 200 meters on its second flight, though the launch permit issued Aug. 23 by the Federal Aviation Administration specified that the flight not exceed 150 meters in altitude.

On Aug. 24 and then again on Tuesday, residents of Boca Chica Village, 1.5 miles west of the launch site, received hand-delivered alerts recommending that they evacuate the area before the scheduled hop in the event of an “overpressure event” caused by a malfunction during flight that could cause windows to break.

“At a minimum, you must exit your home or structure and be outside of any building on your property when you hear the police sirens which will be activated at the time of the Space Flight Activity,” read the advisories.

Overpressure results from atmospheric pressure being pushed to a higher-than-normal level due to a shockwave from an explosion or sonic boom. Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said Monday morning that the alerts were distributed to residents at the request of the FAA.

“If we hadn’t provided any notice and God forbid something happened, we’d be in a different situation,” he said. “We’d rather err on the side of caution.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said today’s test flight will be the Starhopper’s last and that it will become a vertical engine test stand. Starhopper was the first prototype of the company’s Starship, which is under development along with the Super Heavy booster component. Musk intends for Starship/Super Heavy to return humans to the moon within a few years and eventually carry them to Mars.

Musk told Time magazine in July that SpaceX can probably land an uncrewed Starship on the moon within two years and send crews to the moon within four years.

The next step is the Starship prototype Mk1, currently under construction at the SpaceX Boca Chica yard near the launch site. The Mk1 will be powered by three Raptor engines, as will a similar prototype, Mk2, under construction in parallel at Cocoa, Fla., near Cape Canaveral.

Asked about the impact on Boca Chica Village residents once higher altitude testing of the more powerful Mk1 begins, Trevino said the situation will be addressed when it comes time.

“I think were kind of … reinventing the wheel here because we’re dealing with an unknown experience for our area in this situation,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we crosss all our T’s and dot all our I’s and provide as much public safety awareness and notice as possible. … It is rocket science. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for success.”

The county had authorized the closure of Boca Chica Beach and S.H. 4 from the beach to Oklahoma Avenue from 2 p.m. to midnight Aug. 26-28, with today as the primary launch date and Aug. 27-28 as secondary dates.

The FAA had issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for Aug. 26-28, 2 p.m. to midnight each day, prohibiting aircraft operation within four miles of the launch site from ground level up to and including 8,000 feet above sea level.

“We’re very, very cautiously optimistic and excited, and we’re cheering and praying for positive results,” Trevino said on Monday before the aborted launch. “All of this is a process. There are a lot of steps to take. This is a big one for SpaceX and we’re wishing and we’re praying for all success for them.”