SpaceX Starship makes it happen with a perfect hop debut

SpaceX’s Starship rocket took the biggest step towards orbit (and Mars) yet, after a full-scale prototype launched 150m (~500 ft) into the air and landed in one piece.

Starship SN5’s nearly perfect hop debut has seen the rocket hold a torch lit by Starhopper’s second and final flight last year anywhere from two to four years in the making. Starhopper completed its own 150m hop test in August 2019 impressing many with the sheer oddity and unlikelihood of the achievement. Today, for the first time ever, a full-scale Starship – designed with materials and methods that would convert approximately 1:1 into spaceships of orbital size – has successfully launched and landed.

The hop debut of Starship SN5 was actually much smoother than Starhopper, powered by the same methane and oxygen-fueled Raptor engine SpaceX plans to use to conquer and populate Mars. His predecessor suffered an incredibly difficult landing when its early Raptor engine lost control shortly before landing – a fate SN5 seems to have been easily avoided.

It’s a real possibility at this stage that SpaceX is now like the dog caught the bus, past a landmark it hadn’t completely expected to cross. Starship SN5’s apparent success means that SpaceX has now well and truly flight-proven the methods and materials it’s currently using to build next-generation steel rockets with. Of course, 150 meters is a drop in the bucket relative to Starship’s real orbital destinations, but the program’s greatest challenge has always been the ability to construct a completely functioning pressure vessel out of commodity steel and spartan facilities.

With SN5 safely back on ground, SpaceX will now start working on even more ambitious flight tests immediately. A 20 km (~12 mi) launch accompanied by a surreal skydiver-style landing attempt would undoubtedly be the most noteworthy of such experiments, second only – of course – to Starship’s first orbital launch and reentry attempts.

A senior SpaceX engineer and executive believes that Starship’s first orbital launch could still happen by the end of the 2020. While still incredibly unlikely, Starship SN5’s successful hop debut means that that target may now be within the realm of possibility. (SpaceX)

After weeks of attempts with SN5 alone and another seven months of operating with SN1, SN3, SN4 prototypes and three smaller test tanks, Starship’s positive full-scale hop debut is both unsurprising and almost incredible. Notable is the fact that even after the booming success of today, SpaceX seems to be hard at work designing a new Starship – SN8 – out of a completely different steel alloy built to make the rockets even more powerful than they are now.

According to, Starship SN8 will be the first full-scale prototype to have a working nose and aerodynamic control surfaces mounted and will attempt to retrieve and land the above-mentioned 20 km “skydiver.” At any time SpaceX could start stacking the SN8 components.

The fates of Starship SN5 – and outdated-alloy-sibling SN6 – is unclear but whatever they are, they are now all but guaranteed to follow on the heels of a highly successful career.

Reported by Teslarati.

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