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SpaceX’s prototype Mars rocket has flown for the first time

It may look like a water tower, but SpaceX’s Starship can fly. The rocket, which is designed to send explorers to the moon and eventually Mars, made its first test flight on 4 August.

Like smaller prototypes called Starhoppers that flew in 2019, this test was a quick hop, intended to take the rocket about 150 metres into the air. SpaceX hasn’t yet confirmed whether the hop reached its intended altitude, but overall the flight appeared to be successful, ending with Starship softly landing upright next to the pad from which it launched.

The rocket is about 50 metres tall and 9 metres in diameter and is designed to be fully reusable so that it can land and then launch again shortly afterwards. While its main purpose is to take people and supplies to space, it may someday also be used to travel quickly between locations on Earth.

The version of Starship that made the hop was the seventh prototype: none of the prior test crafts made it into the sky, and four were destroyed during testing. If the Starhopper flights are any indication, it is likely that Starship will continue making progressively higher hops until it is ready to be blasted into orbit.

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If Starship proves itself in orbit, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that it will eventually be used to set up colonies on the moon and Mars. The SpaceX website says that Starship, sitting atop a Super Heavy rocket for extra boost, “represent[s] a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond”.

A successful flight test is a major step towards that goal. “Mars is looking real,” Musk tweeted after the hop.

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