SpaceX launched its Starhopper test vehicle, On Tuesday evening, in South Texas. Throughout this test, it flew much higher than last month, almost straight up to 150 meters. Then, beneath the power of a single Raptor engine, the vehicle smoothly moved laterally for about 100 meters before a controlled descent and landing in the center of a launchpad.
From a technological viewpoint, the test was impressive, proving the thrust and vector control of the new Raptor engine. This was the first time a gigantic rocket engine burning liquid-methane propellant made a significant flight, and it appeared to be mostly, if not entirely, successful. SpaceX engineers can take confidence from this test as they move into ending their builds of Starship orbital prototypes in Texas and Florida later this year.
The test might have had extra political significance, however. SpaceX seeks to demonstrate that Starship is a viable vehicle for NASA to consider flying astronauts to and from the Moon and other destinations. Visually, the flight of the stubby Starhopper was arresting: it took off in a cloud of smoke and landed in the reddish almost Mars-red dust it kicked up on the landing site.
Some politicians may be beginning to notice. Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, advised Ars, “With regard to the SpaceX’s Starship, the senator and his staff have been following the developments closely and are excited about the vehicle’s prospects and the economic activity and innovation that’s occurring as a result in Texas.”