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SpaceX: Starhopper soars above Texas in record-breaking test

The water tower-shaped craft is an early prototype of Starship, which SpaceX hopes will someday send humans to Mars.

The Starhopper soars 500 feet in the air.

SpaceX
  • The test marked the first time a craft used a liquid-methane-burning engine to lift itself that high.
  • The successful test paves the way for larger-scale tests of Starship prototypes.
  • SpaceX could send Starship to Mars by as early as 2024. More realistically, the company plans to use the rocket to conduct cargo missions in 2021.


Spacex successfully on Tuesday completed its highest and most difficult test of Starhopper, the early-stage prototype of the spaceship CEO Elon Musk hopes will someday transport humans to Mars and beyond.

In a video of the test at SpaceX's test site in Boca Chica, Texas, the prototype craft — which some say resembles a flying water tower — can be seen lifting itself about 500 feet in the air, hovering for about 10 seconds, and finally descending back to ground, stirring up a cloud of dust in the process.

At first glance, the test might not seem too impressive. But it marked the first time a craft used a liquid-methane-burning engine to fly that high above the ground, serving as a proof-of-concept that SpaceX can use to move forward confidently with full-scale prototypes of Starship. These prototypes — which SpaceX is calling Mk1 and Mk2 — will pave the way for future moon and Mars missions using Starship.

Starship is set to use six SpaceX Raptor engines, which are a family of methane-fueled SpaceX engines that the company plans to use on interplanetary missions. (For context: Starhopper used a single Raptor engine; Mk1 and Mk2 will probably use three each; and the "Super Heavy" rocket is set to use 35.) However, Musk said Starship's specifications might get updated after SpaceX reviews data from Tuesday's test.

As for Starhopper, Tuesday's test was its last. But although Starhopper will never make it to space, SpaceX plans to make use of the experimental craft on Earth.

"Yes, last flight for Hopper," Musk said via Twitter on Saturday. "If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor."

​SpaceX's Starship

Starship is set to be a 100-passenger spacecraft that will be launched off of Earth by SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket, or "Super Heavy" rocket. But Starship is unique because it's also a rocket unto itself, one that's designed to land on and take off from distant planets all on its own. It's also unique because it's fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen, both of which are gasses that could theoretically be produced on other planets and used to refuel the craft.

What's next for Starship? It's hard to say exactly — in part because Musk is known for setting aspirational timelines — but, based on the company's statements, you might expect to see Starship:

Even if SpaceX doesn't send humans to Mars by 2026, Musk is confident Starship will get the job done someday.

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Leonardo da Vinci could visually flip between dimensions, neuroscientist claims

A neuroscientist argues that da Vinci shared a disorder with Picasso and Rembrandt.

Christopher Tyler
Mind & Brain
  • A neuroscientist at the City University of London proposes that Leonardo da Vinci may have had exotropia, allowing him to see the world with impaired depth perception.
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Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.

Young children in monastic robes

Pixabay
Culture & Religion
  • Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
  • A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
  • Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
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Bubonic plague case reported in China

Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.

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(Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images)
Coronavirus
  • The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
  • Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
  • Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
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Education vs. learning: How semantics can trigger a mind shift

The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.

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