Crude SpaceX Starhopper is 70 to 120 Days From First Test Flight

The SpaceX Starhopper seems like the fastest development of a prototype rocket outside of a wartime rocket program. The purpose of the inexpensive testing is to have the first flight tests of the new Raptor engine. Three of the engines have been placed in a row and the tests will allow control software to be tested and the throttling of the engines to be tested.

The Starhopper rocket should be stacked and welded into one piece within a few days or weeks. The Texas launch pad is still being built and is still piled dirt.

The work on the rocket and the launch pad will come together over the next 60 days and then the rocket will be moved to the launch pad for a first flight in March or April 2019.

SpaceX is getting the regulatory license to fly to about 5000 meters and to go faster than the speed of sound.

SpaceX wants to build and fly to orbit with the full orbital version of the Super Heavy Starship in 2020. This would be with seven raptor engines for the new top stage of a full two vehicle.

The first orbital version may not have the full windows and cockpit of the completed rocket. It would likely also be a more complete prototype.

Dual-bell Rocket

The Raptor engines are using a dual-bell design. There was a 2014 paper – Conceptual Design for a Dual-Bell Rocket Nozzle System Using a NASA F-15 Airplane as the Flight Testbed

The dual-bell will allow for one system to be used with good vacuum performance and good launch performance.

The dual-bell rocket nozzle was first proposed in 1949, offering a potential improvement in rocket nozzle performance over the conventional-bell nozzle. Despite the performance advantages that have been predicted, both analytically and through static test data, the dual-bell nozzle has still not been adequately tested in a relevant flight environment. In 2013 a proposal was constructed that offered a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) F-15 airplane as the flight testbed, with the plan to operate a dual-bell rocket nozzle during captive-carried flight.

70 thoughts on “Crude SpaceX Starhopper is 70 to 120 Days From First Test Flight”

  1. “…Maybe BO buys ULA…”

    Why would anyone want to do such a foolish thing?
    Governmental mandate is the only reason ULA was ever in “business”.

  2. Well, of course, ULA plans to recover and reuse the engines, although I think that is a fantastic Rube Goldberg scheme. New Glenn will be a competitor, if they ever get it flying.

  3. You are right. They left Aerojet biting the dust….. Anyway, I am not sure that it was the best choice for Vulcan. BE4 is optimized for a reusable launcher, something Vulcan isn’t. And they will be competing with New Glenn, which will be using the same engines but will be reusable.

  4. I think 2022 is more likely to be the date of a first manned orbital launch, with a Mars mission coming later in the decade, depending on finances.

  5. Your numbers must be spot on, since in the most recent redesign they announced the payload capacity will be 100 metric tons, 220,000 pounds. If I remember right, the Saturn V was capable of lofting 250,000 pounds, which is 125 tons.

  6. Well, Blue Origin has developed a new engine which ULA is buying for their new Vulcan rocket. BO has also developed a suborbital rocket and capsule which go up and come back down very prettily, but in which they have yet yo fly people. More importantly, they have yet to orbit an ant. In this business, that is the standard by which all else is measured, the ability to put payloads in to orbit. If you haven’t done that, you haven’t done anything. The day is coming. I’m sure they will do it eventually, but it’s going to be according to their timetable and no one else’s.

  7. BO has suggested they might be able to launch an orbital rocket in 2020, but that will be the absolute earliest they will accomplish it.

  8. The thing I liked best about the ‘Vulture’ was the idea that somehow launching VERRRRY SLLOOWWWLY had advantages that the rocket experts had overlooked… 😉 (Kudos for such an ancient SF show reference!)

  9. Exactly who and what are you comparing SX to when you say they have been building this rocket for some time? It really makes all the difference. Also who has been paying for the R&D?

    Let’s use the Falcon Heavy for comparison. Comparing rockets isn’t an exact science but FH cost $0 to taxpayers for R&D. It cost about $120 million per launch and can launch the biggest payload into orbit of any rocket in the world right now. The best value per kg there is.

    The cancelled Ares I rocket, NASA spent $500 million on mobile launch tower alone. NASA invested $500 million in seed money into SX as part of the COTS program. SX developed the cargo Dragon, the Falcon 9, a new rocket motor, a launch complex and flew an orbital test flight. Oh yea, also did some computer simulations and it took years. BTW, want to buy a rusting mobile launch tower cheap?

  10. You do know SLS/Orion is nothing but corporate welfare for the powerful established space states. Notice how it never seems to be a problem giving welfare the established classes and corporations within the population it only becomes a problem when it is given to the poorest. Strange how that works out.

    A second grader doing simple math could tell you the SLS/Orion is a complete waste of taxpayer money. Heck they can’t even shut the programs down without it costing billions. Heck just look at the Falcon Heavy $0 tax dollars for R&D. SLS which is Shuttle derived and more or less the same Ares V rocket still isn’t close to flying but billions have been spent.

  11. Actually BO is older then SX. It seems to me BO is very risk averse and wants to make it perfect where SX is very focused on trying things and if it fails they embrace the failure and learn quickly from it. Also SX is very nimble and will completely throw their plans in the trash bin if they find something that works better.

    Time will tell what approach is better. Maybe Bezo doesn’t need to worry about making money and his approach will win in the end? It did for Amazon. I believe competition is best for everyone. But SX is starting to pull away and will have the ability to undercut anyone on pricing. Maybe BO buys ULA?

    Sure would love to see BO put something into orbit in 2019.

  12. You missed at least three zeros on the cost of the SLS program so far; the SLS/Orion boondoggle consumes about 250 times more money than your estimate every year.

  13. Musk has said this test vehicle is shorter than the real thing. They are building the real booster and ship in LA port.

  14. We are witnessing the first application of the minimum cost design (MCD) criterion. Arthur Schnitt would have been proud! Things are about to get real interesting real fast!

  15. You are right. They are the next serious contenders. The BE4 engine is a good piece of work. Meanwhile, the old launchers manufacturers are praying that they fail, or they will be in serious problems.

  16. You are totally right. As things are today, they will have the whole new superlauncher and vehicle even earlier than NASA will have the SLS and the Apollo era capsule some naive people thinks will take them to Mars. I am not sure that SpaceX will meet the deadlines, but be sure that they will try.

  17. Yeah, it looks a little crude. Almost as if it is built to crash! However what more do you need for conducting tests? You don’t want to build a gold plated spaceship for a simple hop test that has a significant chance of failure.

  18. In addition to their suborbital business plan, they got into the orbital spaceflight technology business in 2014 and plan their first launch in 2022.

  19. Its literally rocket science and before SpaceX there were Zero companies not working for gov who had done it.
    It is very hard still.
    That said blue origin is secretive I bet they are farther along then most think.

  20. Nice to see someone who isn’t “excessively risk-averse” and isn’t afraid to move fast and break things.

    Compare and contrast with NASA, which is $11,000,000 and a decade into the so-called “Space Launch System” and has absolutely nothing to show for it. I strongly suspect they never will: they’re already making noises about abandoning it and just using SpaceX and Blue Origins to launch stuff.

    You’ll never accomplish jack if you’re paralyzed by fear of failure. Per Ardua Ad Astra!

  21. Oh please SpaceX does plenty of simulations. This looks like integration testing for Raptor and its controls.

  22. Saturn first stage wasn’t hydrogen-oxygen. That was second stage engines. First stage was inefficient (by modern standards) kerolox.

  23. SpaceX has been building this rocket for some time. Lots of time spent making Raptor engines, lots of time spent doing computer simulations.

  24. I’d like to think that this is the case but I doubt that SLS will be cancelled even when commercial super heavies that are 10x cheaper are routinely flying.

  25. Perhaps some money could be made with the practice ship by naming it the Grasshopper and decorating it with weed and 4-20 references. Moreover, It’s the perfect space ship for when you want to get high. I wonder if Elon would sell the prototype or if the price would be to high?

  26. “the first rule to rocketry is always assume it’s going to explode”, Even on The cutting edge of science Mr.musk seems to be able to avoid this. Well at least better than von Braun or Kraft.

  27. It’s a test article; not going to orbit but about 5 km up max. A lot of old dirigibles were built in open-air hangars. The Raptors, at least, were built in doors.

  28. I think the reason why we’re seeing a sudden ramping up is SpaceX caught whiff the SLS may be cancelled if there is/are commercial super heavies.
    And I’d do the same thing.

  29. I hope blue origin stops beating their chest, and just catch up with spacex. Putting a rocket into orbit with some payload shouldnt be that hard…

  30. Speaking of haters… what’s wrong with Jeff Bezos? It seems to me the Blue Origin team is doing some pretty incredible things too.

  31. Mat… Bring Joe Rogan by and they can call it the ‘Grass’ Hopper. Jo-king. Keep up the good work proud of you Elon. I’ll keep up the good work to. You’ll get to know my name eventually from the Canadian space agency. I’ll be sending them lots of concepts and ideas. Hopefully they’ll be on one of your rockets one day. You get a chance look through these archives on this website. I’ve already dropped ideas for you.

  32. ” dual chamber increasing first stage Isp during climb out ” <– Dual bell, not dual chamber.

    ” Plugging the same performance numbers into Saturn V’s first stage, and 380 Isp instead of 425 for the V’s hydrogen engines. I arrived at 156 tons to LEO. ” <– did you rework the dry mass for fuel density and reusability?

  33. I feel the the slight hate here. Anyway with its brief yet very successful 17 year history chances are that SpaceX will be successful with this simple yet hopefully effective design. The kiss principle is awesome!

  34. I have been calculating BFR’s possible flight characteristics. SL Isp 330, vacuum 380, dual chamber increasing first stage Isp during climb out. I assumed it reaching 365 at separation. 220,000 lbs to LEO. 2,514,000 pounds LOx, Methane upper stage, 255,000 pound starship, empty. First stage 700,000 pounds empty, 5,900,000 pounds LOx, Methane on board fuel.
    Stage one thrust, 10,260,000 lbs. Starship thrust 3,136,000 lbs.
    Lift off mass 9,589,000 lbs. Starship sep. mass 2,989,000 lbs.
    I landed up having Starship reaching orbit with 218,000 pounds of fuel remaining, with a 220,000 pound payload, the ship massing 250,000 pounds.
    Plugging the same performance numbers into Saturn V’s first stage, and 380 Isp instead of 425 for the V’s hydrogen engines. I arrived at 156 tons to LEO.

    Interesting numbers.

  35. Yep, looks like its predominantly a controls testing platform. The big guys would spend way more $’s developing a simulator to test craft control algorithms…and then find out empirically where the simulations fail. Musk is going back to the Wright bros. to cut out the simulation expenses and simply trying the stuff. Big difference between then and now is that modern technology doesn’t require a Wright brother/Musk onboard during the test.

  36. This is amazing. It is astonishing how fast SpaceX can move from concept to test platform when they put their minds to it. Just goes to show you when you have someone like Elon who wants to do, not just dream, how much you can get done.

  37. Oh come, who else us prepping to launch a huge spaceship, even in the rough phases, with the success Space X has? It baffles me that there are so many haters, yet this company has done more privately than any space agency on the planet, government funded or not. With all the drama coming with the drilled holes on the Russion tin cans they are using to transport folks and cargo now, who do you think with be banking on that market share and cornering it for the greater good? It won’t be Jeff Bezos!

  38. The composite image above is as of today. We have no idea how big the finished test article will be but I don’t see them stopping until they are about the height of the BFS.

  39. It is an amazing combination of new technical components all coming together quickly under the Texas sky. Perhaps the only mature technologies are SpaceX’s ability to use many medium sized engines together and coordinate thrusters for vertical landing. I assume that the fuel tanks will go up to the top of the cylinder and the sloped nose will be largely empty. After a couple test hops they could put in a door, windows and beat Blue Orion the first manned test to 60km sub-orbit.

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