On Tuesday, SpaceX has launched a first prototype of the company’s Mars rocket, shaking the nerves of people living near the Texas site and eliminating another key obstacle to the interplanetary ambitions of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 feet (152m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas, and propelled itself some 650 feet (198m) eastward onto an adjacent landing platform, completing a seemingly successful low-altitude test of SpaceXs next-generation Raptor engine.
The Raptor is designed to power Musks forthcoming heavy-lift Starship rocket, a reusable two-stage booster taller than the Statue of Liberty that is expected to play a central role in Musks interplanetary space travel objectives, including missions to Mars.
The prototype “hopper” vehicle, resembling a chrome water tower with four landing legs, was originally slated for its test liftoff on Monday.
But a rather embarrassing wiring issue with the single Raptor engine halted the countdown less than a second before ignition, Musk, the SpaceX founder and chief executive, said on Twitter.
Nearly a dozen people living in the adjacent town of Boca Chica, just over a mile from the test site, had been urged in advance by local authorities to leave their homes as a precaution at the sound of the sirens of the Police who rang minutes before launch.
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