The SpaceX Starship is shaping up well, ahead of planned “hop tests” set to start next year. The firm’s mega-ship is intended for a number of upcoming ambitious missions, like a manned trip to Mars and an orbit around the moon. New images posted on Thursday show the company is making big progress to get its Starship ready to take flight.
The images show preparations underway at the Boca Chica testing facility in Texas, where the company is expected to make its latest rocket fly a few hundred kilometers to demonstrate its readiness. This is not the full-size rocket, unveiled at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017 with a size of 348 feet and mass of 9.7 million pounds, figures that far eclipse the current Falcon 9 that stands 230 feet tall with a mass of 1.2 million pounds. The Boca Chica rocket has the same full body diameter of the final starship at 30 feet, but doesn’t make the full height.
The images come just days after Musk himself shared a photo of the rocket’s cone ahead of launch. Musk noted that the ship is formed of stainless steel, with a mirror finish offering “maximum reflectivity” that will “look like liquid silver.” However, Musk also clarified that unlike NASA’s late-1950s Atlas rocket family, which also used stainless steel, the Starship uses a new mix of alloys and architecture that enables it to remain stable on the launchpad even when unpressurized — something that couldn’t be said for the Atlas.
SpaceX plans a rapid timetable for the Starship, with Musk claiming there’s a 60 percent or more chance the rocket will reach orbit in 2020. This paves the way for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to complete his voyage around the moon with six to eight artists in 2023, followed by a manned mission to Mars using two Starships in 2024. The rocket’s liquid methane and oxygen propellant make refueling from Mars possible.
Musk plans to provide a “detailed explanation” of his most recent design changes to the Starship as early as March or April, which Musk previously said would come after the first hop tests.
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