SpaceX Rival Passes Major Milestone With Small Hop Test

Stoke Space’s Hopper2 during its test on September 17, 2023.
Photo: Stoke Space

During a 15-second test flight, Stoke Space launched Hopper2 and landed the prototype upper stage in what is a major milestone in the company’s plans to develop a fully reusable rocket.

The Seattle-based company pulled off a vertical takeoff and landing of its launch vehicle on Sunday at its test site in Moses Lake, Washington, Stoke Space announced. Hopper2 launched to an altitude of 30 feet (9 meters) and touched down within its planned landing zone following 15 seconds of flight.

“This test was the last test in our Hopper technology demonstration program,” Stoke Space wrote in its statement. “We’ve obtained an incredible amount of data that will enable us to confidently evolve the vehicle design from a technology demonstrator to a reliable reusable space vehicle.”

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Last week, Stoke Space ran a static engine firing test for Hopper2, which followed testing of an earlier prototype, Hopper1, in the spring. The company has set out to create a fully reusable launch vehicle, which is yet to be accomplished in the industry. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is partially reusable with all but the second stage that can be recovered and reused.

With Hopper2, however, Stoke Space wants its second stage to deliver its payload to orbit to orbit and make its way back for a vertical landing on Earth, before which it would have to survive the extreme temperatures of atmospheric reentry. Hopper2 is designed with a regeneratively cooled heat shield, with small cavities lined across its outer layer so propellant can flow through the material to keep it cool during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere.

Following Sunday’s test flight, Stoke Space is now going to focus on its reusable first stage. “With our innovative second stage design, our team at Stoke is attempting to do something that has never been done before: design and build a rocket that is 100 percent reusable with a 24-hour turnaround,” the company wrote. “To reach that goal, we will now continue moving through our development program by increasing focus on our reusable first stage.”

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