SpaceX Starship prototype takes big step toward Mars with first tiny ‘hop’ – CNET

The big metal silo can fly!

GIF by Eric Mack/CNET

Elon Musk and SpaceX took their latest step toward Mars and the stated goal of making humanity a multi-planetary species ... by shooting a giant metal thermos into the Texas sky Tuesday evening. 

The company performed an almost 500-foot (150 meter) "hop" of its SN5 Starship prototype at its Boca Chica development facility at 5 p.m. PT. 

The nearly nine-story-tall test craft ignited its single Raptor engine and slowly rose into the air before then gently returning to the ground and landing upright not far from where it took off.

For a moment after the engine first ignited, it looked as if SN5 was struggling to get airborne, but then it rose above its own smoke, hovered and came in for a soft landing. It traveled just a tiny fraction of the more than 35 million miles Musk hopes the final Starship will traverse to take humans to Mars. 

The long-awaited low-altitude test flight comes after a handful of previous prototypes failed without ever leaving the ground, mostly during pressurization tests. 

SN5 is designed to be able to perform an orbital flight, but before pushing toward space, it first had to complete this comparatively tiny hop.

The roughly 98-foot-tall (30 meter) vehicle is a stripped-down version of what the final Starship spacecraft will look like, without the nose cone or fins. It's 30 feet (9 meters) wide and it's basically a fuel tank and a single Raptor engine topped with a weight that simulates a payload. The resulting shape is something like a thermos many will recognize.

Musk tweeted this footage of the launch late Tuesday:

It's been a big August for SpaceX already, with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully returning NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from the International Space Station and splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. 

"Mars is looking real," Musk tweeted after the hop.

Crazy to think that interplanetary travel might begin with this brief and bizarre-looking flight. Can't wait to see the next big step on this long journey.

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