It was the first time the experimental craft, nicknamed “Starhopper,” flew free without being tethered to the ground.
SpaceX’s goal was to lift the spacecraft about 65 feet into the air before gently landing it nearby — what’s SpaceX called a “hop test.” It’s not clear exactly how high the craft flew. Footage captured by reporters present at the South Texas launch site show fire and smoke erupting from Starhopper’s massive Raptor rocket engine, obscuring the vehicle from view.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the flight was a success.
“Water towers *can* fly,” he joked in a tweet, referencing Starhopper’s likeness to a cylindrical water tank. He also shared views of the launch that were captured by a nearby drone and a camera near the Raptor engine.
Starhopper is designed to be an early precursor to a deep-space exploration rocket called Starship, and Musk has said rapid development of the technology is a top priority for SpaceX.
The latest design for Starship, which was earlier referred to as BFR, show it riding into orbit atop the most powerful rocket booster ever built. SpaceX hopes to use the launch system to deliver massive loads of satellites into orbit, and eventually to shuttle humans out into the solar system to explore and colonize Mars.
“Congrats!!! Moon is right there!” he wrote.