SpaceX test-launched a pilot of the corporate’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, clacking the nerves of people living around the Texas site and clearing another key obstacle in billionaire businessperson Elon Musk’s interplanetary goals.
The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 ft (152m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas, and drove itself about 650 ft (198m) eastward onto an adjacent touchdown platform, completing an apparently successful low-altitude test of SpaceX’s next-gen Raptor engine.
The Raptor is developed to power Musk’s upcoming heavy-lift Starship spacecraft, a reusable two-stage booster taller than the Statue of Liberty that’s expected to play a central role in Musk’s interplanetary space travel goals, alongside missions to Mars.
The prototype “hopper” vehicle, matching a chrome water tower with four landing legs, was initially slated for its test liftoff on Monday. However, a “somewhat embarrassing” wiring problem with the only Raptor engine stopped the countdown less than a second before combustion, Musk, the SpaceX founder and chief executive, wrote on Twitter.
A few dozen people living in the adjoining village of Boca Chica, just over a mile from the test site, had been asked in advance by local authorities to vacate their houses as a precaution at the sound of police sirens that alarmed minutes before launch.
The notices, distributed by sheriff’s agents three days in advance, warned of a possible “overpressure event” that could shatter windows and compromise anyone living inside their homes in the occasion of an explosive failure.
Other residents lamented SpaceX’s appearance on the Texas coast, frustrated with street closures and confusing public notices worrisome to those foreign to the trials of spaceflight tests.