SpaceX’s first ‘untethered’ test of its prototype Starhopper vehicle was aborted just seconds after ignition, after encountering technical difficulties. The launch had already been delayed several times due to adverse weather.
The rocket was due to fire its engines just long enough to launch the craft some 65 feet (20 meters) in the air at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas testing facility. However, after the Raptor engine ignited, it spewed fire skywards from an opening near the top of the rocket.
Despite the fiery failure, the rocket appeared to be largely unscathed. “It appears as though we have had an abort on today’s test. As you can see there, the vehicle did not lift off today,” SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said during a livestream of the test flight. “As I mentioned before, this is a development program, today was a test flight designed to test the boundaries of the vehicle.”
The company completed two tethered hops in April 2019 but Wednesday’s trial was the first untethered attempt, with the Raptor engine firing at 80 percent capacity.
The Starhopper is a prototype for the company’s Starship rocket, on which CEO Elon Musk is pinning his hopes of bringing humans to Mars, using at least 35 combined Raptor rockets.
SpaceX may attempt another ‘hop’ on Thursday but the company has yet to officially confirm. A successful, static fire test on July 16 showed the impressive (but tethered) flamethrower in action.