SN6 hops: SpaceX achieves third test flight at Boca Chica

Stainless steel rocket nose cones are manafactured Friday, July 31, 2020, at SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas Starship Assembly Facility. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

Shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday, SpaceX test successfully hopped its SN6 Starship prototype to 500 feet at Boca Chica, 30 days after a 500-foot hop and landing on Aug. 4 by the SN5.

The SN6’s single Raptor engine was ignited at 12:48 p.m., 10 minutes after a siren was sounded warning nearby Boca Chica Village residents that a launch was imminent, and flew for about 50 seconds before landing on a pad adjacent to the launch stand.

It was the third hop at the company’s Boca Chica Starship production complex and launch/test site. The first occurred on Aug. 27, 2019, when the first Starship prototype, dubbed “Starhopper,” flew for just under a minute before touching down.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Aug. 4 after the SN5 flight that “we’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps.”

“High altitude” refers to the company’s next goal, suborbital flights up to 65,617 feet, or 12.4 miles. A subsequent prototype, the SN8 will feature three engines instead of one, according to Musk, who tweeted on Aug. 11 that “SN8 will have body flaps & nosecone.” The flaps are aerodynamic surfaces on the nose and bottom portion that control the ship’s attitude during descent.

In the meantime, Musk said he hopes SN5 will fly again, predicting accurately in an Aug. 8 tweet that “probably SN6 flies before SN5.”

“We need to make flights simple & easy — many per day,” he tweeted.