SpaceX wants to send a human to Mars, and it’s building a giant rocket to complete the mission. The firm is working into the dead of night to complete a test version of the Starship, with plans to complete hop tests of a few hundred kilometers next year. New images surfacing over the weekend show how work is progressing fast at the Boca Chica facility in Texas.
The “hop tests” are a vital aspect of Starship’s future plans. Its reusable design and liquid oxygen and methane propellant make it ideal for landing on other planets, refueling, and returning home. The images, as captured by Twitter users “Cowboy Dan” and “Austin Barnard,” show the stainless steel design midway through construction, ready for a crane to move it from the welding stand. It shows rapid progress compared to just three days prior, placing it in good standing to start tests:
The rocket was unveiled by CEO Elon Musk at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017, as part of a plan to send supplies to Mars in 2022 and the first humans in 2024. This “hopper” version won’t reach the 348 feet height of the announced version, but its diameter of 30 feet matches the final design. Musk explained during a visit this month to the facility that the steel will make it “look like liquid silver,,” but unlike previous such designs like NASA’s 1950s Atlas rockets, the Starship will remain stable on the launchpad even when unpressurized.
Musk rates the chances high that the ship will reach orbit by 2020, and it seems the company is pushing hard to make this happen. The company submitted its application to run the hop tests in November to the Federal Aviation Administration, which means SpaceX could be on course to meet its goals — the Grasshopper test vehicle completed hop tests in September 2012, 12 months after the application was filed.
William Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst for Forecast International, told Inverse earlier this week that based on this evidence, “tests are still possible in late 2019,” but “it could be a year or more from the November application date.”
Related video: Watch How SpaceX’s Starship Could One Day Replace Airplanes