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SpaceX Test-Launches Early Prototype of Company’s Mars Rocket Rattling Nerves of People Living Near Texas Site

The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 feet(152m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas

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SpaceX, Mars, Rocket
SpaceX's Mars Starship prototype "Starhopper" hovers over its launchpad during a test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, Aug. 27, 2019. VOA

SpaceX test-launched an early prototype of the company’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, rattling the nerves of people living near the Texas site and clearing another key hurdle in billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s interplanetary ambitions.

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 SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine.

The Raptor is designed to power Musk’s 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 Musk’s 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.

SpaceX, Mars, Rocket
SpaceX test-launched an early prototype of the company’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, rattling the nerves of people living near the Texas site and clearing another key hurdle. Pixabay

About a dozen people living in the adjacent village of Boca Chica, just over a mile from the test site, had been urged in advance by local authorities to vacate their homes as a precaution at the sound of police sirens that blared minutes before launch.

“It almost looked like a cartoon or something,” nearby resident Cheryl Stevens told Reuters just after Starhopper’s flight. “After all the buildup, it was kind of nice to actually see it happen.”

The notices, circulated by sheriff’s deputies three days in advance, warned of a possible “overpressure event” that could shatter windows and endanger anyone remaining inside their homes in the event of an explosive malfunction.

Maria Pointer, another resident, set up cameras and invited photographers to her home. She said excitement surrounding the launch reminded her of “feeling like you’re going on a Ferris wheel.”

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Other residents bemoaned SpaceX’s presence on the Texas coast, frustrated with road closures and confusing public notices worrisome to those unaccustomed to the trials of spaceflight experimentation.

“It’s kind of like a double-edged sword,” said resident Terry Heaton, adding that access to the nearby beach was blocked off every time SpaceX attempted an engine test.

The next step for Raptor will be to carry out additional ground-based firings of the engine bolted to a stationary test stand, Musk said. (VOA)

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Scouting for Potential Mars Landing Sites

Musk has already estimated the cost of having a self-sustaining civilization on the Red Planet which is “between $100 billion and $10 trillion”

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Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. Wikimedia Commons

Elon Musk is serious about colonizing Mars and his aerospace company SpaceX has requested NASA to provide it with potential landing sites on the Red Planet.

SpaceX’s HiRise images indicate it is interested in the Arcadia region of Mars, which has both volcanoes and large open plains.

SpaceX is currently building two orbital prototypes and just completed a successful short jump of its Starhopper prototype as a test of its Raptor engine, reports CNET.

SpaceX is building the “Starship” (formerly known as the BFR), a fully reusable vehicle designed to take humans and supplies to Mars.

In an interview with Axios, Musk said that that there is “70 per cent chance that he will go to Mars”, despite a “good chance” of him not surviving either on the way or after landing.

Musk earlier floated the idea that making Mars warmer would be crucial for making it habitable for humans and one way of doing it would be launching thermonuclear weapons in order to create tiny “suns” over the regions.

The idea is to convert any frozen carbon dioxide into gas, thereby engineering a greenhouse gas.

Elon Musk, tesla, tunnel
AI could be first ‘resident’ of Mars, hints Musk. (Wikimedia Commons)

Musk then floated a new theory, without abandoning the nuking Mars idea.

“Might make sense to have thousands of solar reflector satellites to warm Mars vs artificial suns (tbd),” he tweeted.

“Nuke Mars refers to a continuous stream of very low fallout nuclear fusion explosions above the atmosphere to create artificial suns. Much like our sun, this would not cause Mars to become radioactive,” he added.

Musk has already estimated the cost of having a self-sustaining civilization on the Red Planet which is “between $100 billion and $10 trillion”.

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He arrived at the figure after estimating the approximate future cost of sending a minimum payload to Mars “to nearest order of magnitude”, at $100,000 per tonne. So if building a self-sustaining city on Mars requires a million tonnes of cargo, the cost would be around $100 billion, Musk calculated.

Companies such as SpaceX and scientific bodies around the world have been working towards inventing technologies to allow humans to venture beyond Earth’s moon but it could still take a decade or more before that is attempted. (IANS)