On Tuesday evening, Starhopper launched from South Texas. [credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars ]
On Tuesday evening, in South Texas, SpaceX launched its Starhopper test vehicle for the second time. During this test, it flew much higher than last month, nearly straight up to 150 meters. Then, under the power of a single Raptor engine, the vehicle smoothly moved laterally for about 100 meters before a controlled descent and touchdown in the center of a landing pad.
From a technical standpoint, the test was impressive, demonstrating the thrust and vector control of the new Raptor engine. This was the first time a large 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 finishing their builds of Starship orbital prototypes in Texas and Florida later this year.
The test may have had more 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 at the landing site.