Thursday, August 6th 2020, 11:26 am - Starship could soon carry hundreds of passengers into space.
SpaceX just completed their first crewed test flight to the International Space Station and back to Earth. Now, with their plans to eventually fly humans to the Moon and Mars, their newest rocket, the Starship, just completed its very first successful 'hop'.
When SpaceX first began launching rockets into space, they had an ambitious goal - boosters that were reusable. The idea was, if they wouldn't need to build a new rocket for every space mission, the price of space travel would come down, just as reusing an aircraft numerous times brings down the cost of air travel.
To accomplish this, SpaceX engineers first built the Grasshopper. The sole purpose of this prototype was to test if a rocket could lift off, maneuver side to side, and then land again, intact and upright.
It took some time to get it right, but after multiple tests, we now see SpaceX launching and landing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets on a routine basis.
Starship is the company's next-level rocket. A step-up from the Falcons, Starship is intended to be large enough and powerful enough to deliver up to 100 metric tonnes of cargo, or up to one hundred passengers, into Earth orbit. The entire rocket is intended to be reusable, as well. According to SpaceX, the first stage booster would return to Earth immediately, as the Falcon 9 first stage boosters do now. The entire upper stage, which would contain cargo and/or passengers, would then fly to its destination and be capable of returning back to Earth as well. Even if the Starship's destination was the Moon or Mars, the rocket's upper stage is intended to land on the surface and be capable of lifting off again for return to Earth.
This artist impression shows SpaceX's Starhip upper stage having landed on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA/SpaceX
Before any of that can happen, however, Starship needs to go through the same testing phases that we saw for Grasshopper.
On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, SpaceX's Starship SN5 prototype performed its very first successful 'hop'. Lifting off from one pad, SN5 flew up 150 metres above the ground, and then touched down safely on a second pad, a short distance away.
This is the fourth successful test of the Starship so far for SpaceX. Initially beginning with the Starhopper, the company conducted three flights between April and August in 2019. Now having moved on to the SN5 prototype - larger than the Starhopper and featuring retractable landing gear - the project is advancing even further.