The SpaceX prototype rocket fired its engine late on Wednesday evening local time at a Boca Chica launch pad in South Texas. The static fire test took place around 1.56am BST (8.56pm EST) but only lasted around a minute. During this brief window, the tied down rocket ignited its powerful Raptor, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk last showed off in February. Although the rocket did not take off into the skies on this occasion, the Starhopper’s systems were given the green light for future tests.
Mr Musk tweeted shortly after ignition: “Starhopper completed tethered hop. All system green.”
The static engine test was filmed in entirety from afar by the South Padre Surf Company and shared live online.
The Starhopper itself is all but visible in the video but the moment of ignition is nonetheless breathtaking.
In the video, the horizon briefly disappears behind a cloud of orange steam, smoke and fire for no more than five seconds.
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The livestream video was shot from a distance of about six miles away (10km).
Michael Baylor, who shared a snippet of the online broadcast on Twitter, said: “Hot fire! Raptor comes to life at the base of Starhopper as the vehicle performs a tethered hop at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility.
“This is the first ever firing of a rocket engine at the launch site.”
A second launch video, shared by NASA Space Flight and Twitter user @BocaChicaGal, managed to capture the rocket from up close and offers a much clearer view of the test.
The Twitter user said: “It was amazing to watch, hear and capture in video.”
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The South Padre Island Twitter account later said it was expecting more rocket tests after fuel trucks were spotted at the launch site.
The account tweeted: “Smells like burnt rocket fuel this morning at the launch pad.
“Fuel trucks just pulled up, expecting more Raptor testing later today.”
And a video shared today around 3.22pm BST (10.22am EST) appears to show construction crews assembling the prototype Starship rocket.
The Starship or Starhopper as it is currently known is a suborbital prototype rocket built from stainless steel and armed with an array of Raptor engines.
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Once complete, the rocket will pave the way for SpaceX’s ambitious 100-seater Starship spacecraft.
The Starship, paired with a Super Heavy booster rocket, aims to one day send crews to the Moon and Mars.
In the meantime, the Starhopper prototype will perform a number of short test launches or hops.
Elon Musk teased on Twitter in March: “First really short hops with one engine. Suborbital flights with three.”
The South African billionaire also said the first hopes will lift off from the ground “but only barely”.