On July 25, 2019, SpaceX unveiled its new prototype called the Starhopper which the company claims could carry the first humans into Mars. Its much-anticipated demonstration flight was aborted at the last possible second on August 26 in the hopes of trying it again later.
Starhopper is a reusable prototype for SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. It was expected to launch 500 feet into the sky – which is the FAA launch license requirement – and then make a three-point landing at the company’s South Texas Site. But once the timer reached zero, one of the Starhopper’s engines, Raptor, failed to ignite.
The Raptor engine has a unique TEA-TEB ignition which is an exotic ignition method that isn’t easy to achieve on Earth with current technological tools.
Elon Musk believes the problem may have to do with the igniters since they were more ‘finicky in development’. SpaceX has been asked to boost its liability insurance for the flight from a measly $3 million to a whopping $100 million in the case of an accident. Their experimental launch permit can be read here.
Starhopper was built by SpaceX as a technology proving grounds for its ambitious Super Heavy rocket and Starship projects. These projects are aimed to develop fully reusable launch systems for missions to low-Earth orbit areas like the Moon, Mars, and even trips around to and from Earth.
SpaceX did successfully perform a small test version which was a brief hover at a height of 66 feet on July 25. Among other plans, Elon Musk has shared his plans to use his ‘super-heavy launcher’ known as the BFR or “Big Falcon Rocket” to send spacefarers around the moon and set up bases on Marks. It all hinges on the success of Starhopper.