The latest test flight of a prototype spacecraft, nicknamed “Starhopper,” was called off Wednesday before it left the ground, as plumes of smoke engulfed a development site in South Texas and bursts of flames surrounded the vehicle.
It was slated to fly its highest “hop” test yet, to about 65 feet off the ground, and SpaceX set up a webcast for the event. But the attempt was aborted just moments after the rocket’s massive engine fired up.
The vehicle appeared to be undamaged, and the SpaceX team considered moving forward with a second attempt. But ultimately that was called off as well.
Musk explained in a tweet that the “chamber pressure” in the rocket was “high due to colder than expected propellant.”
When contacted by CNN Business Thursday, SpaceX spokesperson James Gleeson said he could not immediately provide additional details about the test.
Starhopper is designed to be an early precursor to a deep-space exploration rocket called Starship. The prototype craft is meant to conduct short “hop” flights as part of the Starship development program. The tests are “designed to test the boundaries of the vehicle,” said Kate Tice, a SpaceX engineer, on a livestream of the test Wednesday. In other words, no one was expecting the flight to go flawlessly.
Starhopper has so far conducted two trial flights that brought the vehicle a tiny distance into the air while remaining tethered to the ground. Wednesday’s test was set to be the first untethered flight attempt.
It’s not clear when SpaceX will attempt to fire up Starhopper for another trial run. Gleeson declined to comment.
SpaceX has high hopes for Starship. The latest designs for the towering spacecraft show it riding into orbit atop the most powerful rocket booster ever built, and Musk hopes the spacecraft and rocket system will be used to colonize Mars. SpaceX also has a deal with a Japanese billionaire to fly Starship on a tourist mission around the moon as soon as 2023.