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SpaceX's 'Starhopper' Starship Prototype Just Aced Its 1st Hop, Elon Musk Says

SpaceX just fired up the "Starhopper" prototype (opens in new tab) for the company's planned Starship spacecraft for the first time, according to company CEO Elon Musk.

Musk confirmed the short rocket test firing at SpaceX's newest launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, near Brownsville in a Twitter post late Wednesday (April 3). (In that post, he confirmed the Starhopper nickname for the Starship prototype as well.)

"Starhopper completed tethered hop," Musk wrote in the update (opens in new tab), which also included a video from Starship watcher @LabPadre. "All systems green." 

Related: SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy Mars Rocket in Pictures

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The test occurred at 8:56 p.m. EDT (0056 April 4 GMT) and lasted less than a minute, according to one of several video feeds watching the company's launch site (opens in new tab). The video featured above was captured by Spadre.com (opens in new tab), a website for the South Padre Surf Company on South Padre Island across from SpaceX's facility. The camera is about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from SpaceX's site.

While details of the Starhopper test are scarce, anticipation has been high in recent weeks as SpaceX outfitted the prototype with one of the company's new Raptor methane-liquid oxygen engines. The test likely used one engine (ultimately, Starhopper will have three) and didn't get very high, based on earlier comments by Musk. It was also tethered, or connected to ground equipment, for the duration of the test. 

SpaceX's Starhopper prototype for the company's Starship spacecraft made its first tethered hop on April 3, 2019, at the company's Boca Chica launch site near Brownsville, Texas. (Image credit: Spadre.com)

 

"First (really short) hops with one engine," Musk wrote on Twitter March 17 (opens in new tab). "Suborbital flights with three."

"First hops will lift off, but only barely," he added in another post.

Starhopper is a suborbital prototype designed to test the concepts and technologies SpaceX will need to build its new 100-person spacecraft, called Starship, and its massive booster, the Super Heavy. The prototype's name appears to be a mashup of Starship and Grasshopper (opens in new tab), the latter being SpaceX's earlier hopping prototype (opens in new tab) that led to the company's reusable workhorse Falcon 9 rocket boosters.

The Starhopper prototype is made of stainless steel and has a diameter of about 30 feet (9 meters). SpaceX initially built the prototype with a nose cone, giving it a height of 128 feet (39 meters), but that cone was blown off by powerful winds (opens in new tab). Musk has said the nose cone is not needed for the initial test hops. 

Starship is the spacecraft SpaceX wants to use to colonize Mars, fly point-to-point trips around the Earth and perform a variety of other tasks. The company has already signed its first passenger (opens in new tab), billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who plans to fly with a group of artists around the moon — perhaps as early as 2023. 

Related: See the Evolution of SpaceX's Rockets in Pictures 

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Starhopper currently has one Raptor engine for its first hop flights. Elon Musk has said the prototype will eventually use three engines for suborbital test flights. 

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.  

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Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.