SpaceX's Starhopper Rocket Prototype Aborts 1st Untethered Hop Attempt

SpaceX fired up its Starhopper test vehicle for its biggest hop yet Wednesday (July 24), but the rocket aborted the flight just seconds into the attempt. 

Starhopper, a prototype for SpaceX's Starship program, ignited its Raptor engine for about 3 seconds at the company's Boca Chica test site in South Texas, but the vehicle failed to lift off. Instead of hopping up about 65 feet (20 meters) as planned, the rocket belched flame and smoke, then shut down. 

"It appears as though we have had an abort on today's test," SpaceX certification engineer Kate Tice said during a webcast of the Starhopper test. "As you can see there, the vehicle did not lift off today."

Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy Mars Rocket in Pictures

SpaceX's Starhopper test vehicle attempts its first untethered test hop on July 24, 2019 at the company's Boca Chica, Texas test site. The vehicle did not lift off as planned..

(Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's Starhopper has performed two brief tethered test hops in early April, as well as ground tests of the rocket's main Raptor engine, which is fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen. Today's test flight was designed to be the first untethered flight for Starhopper, with its Raptor engine firing at 80% capacity, Tice said. 

"This is a development program," she added. "Today was a test flight designed to test the boundaries of the vehicle."

Wednesday's aborted test hop was supposed to happen last week, but Starhopper encountered an issue during a routine preflight static-fire test of its Raptor. Shortly after the static fire, Starhopper was engulfed in a huge fireball, but the vehicle emerged mostly undamaged, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. 

"Yeah, big advantage of being made of high-strength stainless steel: not bothered by a little heat!" Musk wrote on Twitter at the time

Starhopper is designed to test vital technologies for SpaceX's even-larger Starship vehicle and its massive 35-Raptor engine booster, the Super Heavy. Starship will be powered by six Raptors, Musk has said.

The Starship/Super Heavy combo is designed to be a fully reusable launch system capable of launching 100 people into space at a time. The company aims to eventually use Starship as its main heavy-lift vehicle, as well as for a private tourist flight around the moon (a billionaire has already bought the first flight) and eventual trips to Mars. 

You can see SpaceX's full video of the Starhopper test hop below. 

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

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