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SpaceX's Starship SN5 prototype soars on 1st test flight! 'Mars is looking real,' Elon Musk says

SpaceX just flew a full-size prototype of its Starship Mars-colonizing spacecraft for the first time ever.

The Starship SN5 test vehicle took to the skies for about 40 seconds this afternoon (Aug. 4) at SpaceX's facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica, performing a small hop that could end up being a big step toward human exploration of the Red Planet. 

"Mars is looking real," Musk tweeted shortly after today's test flight.

Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy Mars rocket in pictures

The stainless-steel SN5 rose into the air at 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT; 6:57 p.m. local Texas time). It traveled sideways a bit during the brief, uncrewed flight, which Musk had previously said would target a maximum altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters). The spacecraft deployed its landing legs as planned and stuck the landing.

The SN5 is just the second Starship prototype to get off the ground, and the first to do so in nearly a year. A squat and stubby vehicle called Starhopper took a few brief flights in the summer of 2019, retiring after acing its own 500-foot-high hop that August.

Ending this flight lull fell to the SN5 after several of its predecessors were destroyed during pressurization or engine-firing tests.

Starhopper and the SN5 both feature a single Raptor, SpaceX's powerful next-generation engine. The final Starship vehicle will sport six Raptors, stand about 165 feet (50 m) tall and be capable of carrying up to 100 people, Musk has said.

The operational Starship will launch from Earth atop a gigantic rocket called Super Heavy, which will have 31 Raptors of its own. Both vehicles will be fully and rapidly reusable, potentially slashing the cost of spaceflight enough to make crewed trips to and from the moon, Mars and other deep-space destinations economically feasible, Musk has said. 

Super Heavy will land back on Earth after each liftoff; Starship will be powerful enough on its own to get itself off Mars and the moon, both of which have much weaker gravitational pulls than our planet does.

Musk is particularly keen on the Red Planet, stressing repeatedly over the years that he founded SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help humanity colonize Mars. If all goes well with the development of Starship and Super Heavy, the spaceflight system could enable our species to get a million-person city up and running on the Red Planet in the next 50 to 100 years, the billionaire entrepreneur has said.

A lot of development still needs to get done, of course. SpaceX will iterate repeatedly before arriving at the final Starship design, which will then need to be tested. And then there's Super Heavy, no version of which has yet been built, let alone gotten off the ground. 

But if all goes well, we could see Starship and Super Heavy flying together soon, on exciting and important missions. The SpaceX system is a contender to land NASA astronauts on the moon in the mid-2020s and beyond, for example. And Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a crewed Starship trip around the moon, with a targeted launch date of 2023.

In the much nearer term, however — the coming days and weeks — we should expect a few more short test hops like the one we saw today.

"We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps," Musk said in another tweet today. ("High altitude" could be around 12 miles, or 20 kilometers, up, if previous Musk tweets are any guide.)

Today's Starship milestone comes just two days after another big moment for SpaceX. On Sunday (Aug. 2), the company's Crew Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, bringing an end to Demo-2, SpaceX's first crewed mission. Demo-2, a key test flight for the system, sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for two months.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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  • Ted A Campbell
    Cool. A little wobbly. I was kind of hoping that it would be more or less upright while flying. Maybe you have to pay extra for that?
    Reply
  • Curtis Quick
    My spirits soared with SN5!! It was a wonderful flight! A lot of us had been waiting for a long time for this. Good job SpaceX! Now, what about SN6? Will they stick a nose cone on it and send it up even higher?
    Reply
  • AsteroidAware
    Very nice - you can clearly see the application of Falcon development, into this prototype... with some R&D borrowed from the Leaning Tower of Pisa :p
    Reply
  • FredM
    This is great technology in action. But We (humanity) need thousands of these mega-flights and a shift in targeting from Mars to the Moon if we are to get huge investors and make huge profits from day one in space. First, change the long term goal from Mars to colonizing the MOON and making it habitable. It seems Elon could do this now and at continually decreasing costs with Moon tourism and mining.
    Elon's end goal of colonizing Mars is NOT THERMODYNAMICALLY possible since the second law of Thermodynamics forbids it. Humans can only thrive in a tight ENTROPY CORRIDORS equivalent to that of Earth. Mars is so far below this corridor that living or visiting there will suck the energy out of humans and their machinery at such a rate that resupply will be fiscally impossible. This makes investors nervous. Even nuclear reactors would not surface. And Breeding programs on Mars would only ever evolve energy-poor specimens that could not find a place back on home planet Earth. A sad prospect. Mars is best left for Mining and as a Way station for extra solar system flights using Mars' Moons for a number of purposes.
    Entropy is significant and you just can't ignore it or wish it away. However you can design future missions and objectives much better with ENTROPY in mind:
    For Example, Mining Mars is possible especially for Uranic elements at the base of many cliff faces where radioactive detritus accumulates. This would be a useful industrial science mission for owning all-about the outer Solar System. Using mars mining, communications and warehousing operations is fiscally viable and won't require hordes of settlers to make a profit at this juncture.
    In future if you want viable human settlements you must go to earth-like strata in the Venutian atmosphere or to the semi-shaded Polar regions of Mercury where Earth-like conditions can be found and tracked. The current option to consider is using bountiful solar energy to power Moon orbiting scoop-sats to gouge out deep caverns for housing and in the creation of 20Km maglev runways for maglev and retro rocket assisted Lunar Takeoff and landings. All these things will be possible and indeed far more profitable for investors. IF Elon has the REAL future of space colonization in front of his investors rather than just the next small step goal of putting hundreds of space settlers & tourists at great risk on Mars he will get those elusive investors he needs.
    Reply
  • bleechexplorer
    Ted A Campbell said:
    Cool. A little wobbly. I was kind of hoping that it would be more or less upright while flying. Maybe you have to pay extra for that?

    Not really.
    The finished starship will have 3 engines for atmosphere flights and right now the prototype has only one that is offset. This essentially requires the starship to be angled so it can balance itself by the engine.


    FredM said:
    This is great technology in action. But We (humanity) need thousands of these mega-flights and a shift in targeting from Mars to the Moon if we are to get huge investors and make huge profits from day one in space. First, change the long term goal from Mars to colonizing the MOON and making it habitable. It seems Elon could do this now and at continually decreasing costs with Moon tourism and mining.
    Elon's end goal of colonizing Mars is NOT THERMODYNAMICALLY possible since the second law of Thermodynamics forbids it. Humans can only thrive in a tight ENTROPY CORRIDORS equivalent to that of Earth. Mars is so far below this corridor that living or visiting there will suck the energy out of humans and their machinery at such a rate that resupply will be fiscally impossible. This makes investors nervous. Even nuclear reactors would not surface. And Breeding programs on Mars would only ever evolve energy-poor specimens that could not find a place back on home planet Earth. A sad prospect. Mars is best left for Mining and as a Way station for extra solar system flights using Mars' Moons for a number of purposes.
    Entropy is significant and you just can't ignore it or wish it away. However you can design future missions and objectives much better with ENTROPY in mind:
    For Example, Mining Mars is possible especially for Uranic elements at the base of many cliff faces where radioactive detritus accumulates. This would be a useful industrial science mission for owning all-about the outer Solar System. Using mars mining, communications and warehousing operations is fiscally viable and won't require hordes of settlers to make a profit at this juncture.
    In future if you want viable human settlements you must go to earth-like strata in the Venutian atmosphere or to the semi-shaded Polar regions of Mercury where Earth-like conditions can be found and tracked. The current option to consider is using bountiful solar energy to power Moon orbiting scoop-sats to gouge out deep caverns for housing and in the creation of 20Km maglev runways for maglev and retro rocket assisted Lunar Takeoff and landings. All these things will be possible and indeed far more profitable for investors. IF Elon has the REAL future of space colonization in front of his investors rather than just the next small step goal of putting hundreds of space settlers & tourists at great risk on Mars he will get those elusive investors he needs.

    I am not sure where you are getting that from my friend, but i have not read so much nonsense for a long time.
    Reply
  • RRG
    I love space......I love rocket launches...technologies......telescopes and Earth. Life is hard but wonderful here. Why would anyone want to go to a place, the Moon, and live? Hostile and desolate and always in a spacesuit wondering if you have enough oxygen among many other things you have to worry about. And always looking down at Earth wondering why your not there. The great Thomas Sowell gets it right.......stage 1 thinking. Sounds great but no thanks. I'm in stage 2.
    Reply
  • swiggly
    OK - nice enough but a ways to go from a big flying water heater to Mars....
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    Ted A Campbell said:
    Cool. A little wobbly. I was kind of hoping that it would be more or less upright while flying. Maybe you have to pay extra for that?

    It was not going to fly upright with an off center engine on a mount made for 3 symmetrically mounted. That's why it did a power slide start, and likely why it rotated so much despite the cold gas thrusters trying to prevent that.

    But the 2 degree angle that some videos measured off the landed craft show that even a prepared surface will introduce landing tilts, so I'm eagerly waiting for the v2 version of legs that will level off the craft on (moderately) uneven surfaces.
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    Curtis Quick said:
    My spirits soared with SN5!! It was a wonderful flight! A lot of us had been waiting for a long time for this. Good job SpaceX! Now, what about SN6? Will they stick a nose cone on it and send it up even higher?

    Hard to tell which crafts they will use. Musk twittered that they want to improve the hops before the 20 km skydiver tests start. For one, a high pressure preburner was leaking propellant and was on fire during descent in their video.

    They may want to install all 3 landing engines and the header tanks used then as well as autogenous pressurization systems, since the skydiver position needs pressurized headers (not upright position).

    It is likely that the SN8 will be the first skydiver prototype, since it has the new, tougher alloy and wings were delivered this week so possibly of the same alloy. But no one knows what SpaceX is planning strategically and not even they know how the test series will act out tactically.
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    FredM said:
    This is great technology in action. But We (humanity) need thousands of these mega-flights and a shift in targeting from Mars to the Moon if we are to get huge investors and make huge profits from day one in space.

    The Marts colonization is intended to drive the economy of producing the fleet based on colonist tickets. But the colony will not pay back in cargo as much as future technology and know how - it is different from earlier colonization based on trade or war. It better pay back that way, since that is what the colonists can export besides having an internal economy.

    I doubt Moon has something valuable to export besides science (geology, far side observatories). It is far cheaper to lift volatiles to LEO from Earth, say, and without an atmosphere and biosphere its minerals is mostly scattered by impacts and rarely sedimented into concentrated deposits (volcanism being the exception).

    Elon's end goal of colonizing Mars is NOT THERMODYNAMICALLY possible since the second law of Thermodynamics forbids it. Humans can only thrive in a tight ENTROPY CORRIDORS equivalent to that of Earth.

    What has entropy to do with anything - there is nothing in the second law of thermodynamics that says that? And an "entropy corridor" is not a thing. The classic formulation is that the total entropy of a closed system can never decrease. But planets are not closed systems - life depends on exporting entropy to space.

    Sure, it is easier if we can rely on low entropy sources, such as the mineral concentration by life I noted earlier. But we can even do mining by filtration now, at least in principle - the latest generation lithium filtration membranes have a sporting chance of "spooning off" the battery metal from our oceans as cheaply as earlier mining. Entropy is not a limitation. (Nor is energy, since solar power suffice to drive technology out to Jupiter.)

    Also, using CRACKPOT FONT is not helping a dialog.
    Reply