A small hop by a prototype upper stage was a big step in Stoke Space’s efforts to develop a fully reusable launch vehicle.

Update on Hopper2: The Hopper Has Landed – Stoke Space
Stoke Space completes milestone test in quest to build a fully reusable rocket – TechCrunch

Four-year-old Seattle-area startup Stoke Space executed a successful up-and-down test of its “Hopper” developmental rocket vehicle today, marking a major milestone in its quest to create a fully reusable launch system.

Stoke Space said it flew its Hopper2 vehicle at a test site at Moses Lake, Washington, Sept. 17. The vehicle, using an engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, rose to an altitude of about nine meters before landing safely to conclude the 15-second flight.

The flight concluded the Hopper effort to develop technologies for a future reusable upper stage. “We successfully completed all of the planned objectives,” the company said in a statement after the test. “We’ve also proven that our novel approach to robust and rapidly reusable space vehicles is technically sound, and 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.”

Eventually, Stoke plans to offer a fully reusable launch system, including a second stage that can be brought back to Earth without having to rely on exotic shielding.

The concept behind Stoke Space’s launch system has been compared to the much larger two-stage Starship system that’s being developed by SpaceX for trips beyond Earth orbit. You can extend that comparison to characterize today’s Hopper flight as a parallel to SpaceX’s Grasshopper test flights in 2012 and 2013, or the Starhopper tests in 2019.

Lapsa said he was “incredibly proud” of his team.

“The team is unbelievable, and you know, we’ve developed everything. Two and a half years ago, this spot in Moses Lake was a blank desert. Today we’ve launched a brand-new hydrogen-oxygen engine — and it’s a very unique engine — on a vehicle that took off and landed vertically,” he said. “I think everybody’s on cloud nine.”