eIt was only a small hop of about 20 meters, but it could be crucial to humanity. At least that's the view of billionaire Elon Musk. SpaceX has just completed the first free flight test with an engine for the future unique monster rocket Starship.
She should fly to the moon, Mars or even further. For the century project Musk first tried out with an unusual test hopper vehicle called Starhopper, whether the engine technology works. The Starhopper, now flying in the midst of a fireball on an area in the state of Texas for a few seconds, reminiscent of its outer shape rather to a huge metal water tank, as a rocket.
With some irony, Musk tweeted after the hops: “Water towers can fly.” SpaceX's technology entrepreneur and founder is driving the development of his Starship ship in the same pattern he used in his current Falcon rocket family. Gradually, the technology is being tested in first hops and then on larger ground-based flight tests – before it goes into space on a large scale.
So far, this constant experimentation of ambitious ideas has been a recipe for success for the billionaire who also heads the e-car company Tesla. He founded SpaceX only 17 years ago. Meanwhile, the US company with its idea of reusable rockets, which land vertically, is one of the drivers of the entire space industry.
The next Starhopper test should be done in one or two weeks. Then the “flying water tower” should ascend to 200 meters.
At the heart of the flight tests now underway is the question of how SpaceX's newly developed, extremely powerful Raptor engine works and how it can be controlled in the air. It is also part of the corporate philosophy to develop as much as possible yourself and to focus on mass production.
Up to 42 engines to power the rocket
Large quantities reduce costs. So are fabulous 35 Raptor engines to drive the first stage of the future giant rocket Starship. There are also another six or seven engines in the second stage. So 41 or 42 engines in a rocket.
In the history of spaceflight never had a rocket so many engines and as much thrust, as the planned Starship model. The previous record holder is the failed four-flight test, mysterious moon rocket N1 of the former Soviet Union with 2200 tons takeoff mass. She had 30 engines in the first stage. But Elon Musk thinks in bigger dimensions.
Fuel for the powerful Raptor engines is liquid methane and liquid oxygen. Behind this is the idea to win the fuel in future flights to Mars and back, including landing on the red planet, locally. Practically to use natural resources for the gas station in space.
It will take years to recharge rocket fuel on Mars. But Musk drives his life dream of the colonization of the red planet consistently. The next chapter in the script after the hops of the Star Hopper are the first flights of a mini version of the monster rocket Starship. “In two or three months,” according to Musk, the approximately 55-meter-long prototype called the Starship Mk1 will take off.
The entrepreneur has two of his own development teams compete against each other at two test sites – one in Texas and one in Florida. Both should develop their own technical version. This smaller prototype should already have three engines.
Probably the band protection arrangements are then larger, because the test hops now made a fire around the launch site, but did not cause much damage. Whether it actually stays with the announced schedules is open. Musk has often called appointments, which were then not met. In addition, Musk has already changed the design of his monster rocket several times.
Musk's Starship is said to be made of stainless steel
One of the special features is that the outer skin of the Starship model is made of stainless steel. The shiny steel surface should also give the rocket a special look in addition to physical, technical advantages. While the Europeans will use carbon fiber materials on the outer shell of their upper stage in their Ariane rocket in the future, Musk once again takes a different approach with its steel surface.
Remains the last proposed interpretation, the Starship rocket would be nine meters in diameter then 118 meters high – and thus seven meters larger than the Saturn V rocket, which 50 years ago, the first manned moon landing in the United States enabled.
In fact, the Starship rocket consists of the first stage with the 35 engines, which is referred to by experts as Super Heavy, as well as the actual Starship upper level. Not three astronauts are to be seated in it, as in the Apollo missions, but about 100 people plus 150 tons of cargo.
Starting in the mid-2020s, travel to the Moon or Mars will be undertaken. For these missions, the Raptor engine has now undergone a first flight test. The private entrepreneur Musk is not alone with his plans, because the US state space agency Nasa is planning its own manned flights into space with its own missile system SLS (Space Launch System).
However, this rocket is not quite as big as the Musk exemplar Starship and lags behind the schedule. The first step is to fulfill the requirements of US President Donald Trump, who wants to see US astronauts on the moon again by 2024.
A year earlier, in 2023, Musk already wants to send the Japanese textile entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa with a group of artists with his Starship rocket to a trip around the moon, so without landing on the earth satellite. Supposedly, the wealthy Japanese entrepreneur already participated significantly in the financing of the project. Musk announced the ambitious plan in September of last year, but since then it has been quieter around the project.
Successful flight of a Falcon 9
While critics Musk accuse, he announces full-bodied ambitious projects that cost billions of dollars, but whose funding is not secured, the 48-year-old can point to his successes. Almost at the same time as the Starhopper's first hopping flight in Texas, a flight from its reusable Falcon 9 rocket off the coast of Florida was once again on its way.
This time around, a rocket stage carried a payload capsule (Dragon) on its third flight into space, which was once in space. The flight served to bring cargo to the International Space Station ISS. Everything went smoothly, with the return of the rocket stage landing on land.
Musk's idea of the recycling rocket is now gaining more and more attention and copying worldwide. Also the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sets with its space travel company Blue Origin with its large rockets on the reusability.
There is also evidence that China is developing recycled rockets. In China, the allegedly first private space company has also successfully launched satellites into space with a rocket. That's how small Elon Musk once started.
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