Although it didn’t make for especially dramatic video, SpaceX made a big step toward its goal of visiting Mars with the first flight test of an early version of its Starhopper reusable spacecraft late Thursday. The odd-looking device, which even SpaceX CEO Elon Musk jokes looks like a water tower, hovered for about 20 seconds above the test site in southern Texas. The test article is a blunted version of the retro-looking rocket that will be used for interplanetary flights and other deep space missions.
The test was aimed at proving the new Raptor engine that will be used on the big rocket. The final vehicle will have as many as six of the Raptors although Musk says the number hasn’t been set. This new design has been designed to be reusable with propulsive landings from the start while the current series of Dragon boosters were modified to add that feature. The first hop was about 65 feet. The next one is planned for about 650 feet.