SpaceX may test its Starship sooner than expected. CEO Elon Musk revealed via Twitter last week that the “hopper,” the test version of the company’s giant new rocket, may fly in just four weeks’ time, with the prospect of a delay to eight weeks’ time with unexpected delays.
The deadline sets SpaceX up for an impressive year, as the “hop tests” are an integral part of the company’s future plans, but until now the firm has only provided a vague deadline of 2019 for tests. The tests will involve sending the test rocket on jumps of a few hundred kilometers at the firm’s Boca Chica facility in Texas. A successful flight will pave the way for a manned mission to Mars, with Musk suggesting that the first humans could set foot on the red planet using the Starship as early as 2024. The rocket uses liquid oxygen and methane fuel, which means that astronauts can set up fueling stations to return home, or even travel to further planets with established recharge points on the way.
Following the hop tests, SpaceX may press on sooner than expected to get the Starship ready. Musk stated at a September 2018 press conference that the company aims to complete high-altitude, high-velocity tests sometime next year. Musk has been gradually ramping up this prediction, however, by stating in December that there’s a 60 percent and rising chance that the Starship will reach orbit in 2020 due to improvements in the ship’s architecture.
Since its unveiling in 2017, the rocket has undergone a number of changes. It’s no longer called the “BFR,” an abbreviation that consisted of the terms “big” and “rocket.” It’s also using a new design that Musk claims was inspired by The Adventures of Tintin and will appear “delightfully counter-intuitive.” While the hopper gives a miniaturized flavor of this design, with a stainless steel exterior that makes it look worthy of interplanetary travel, it has a shorter height while maintaining the 30 feet diameter of the final rocket.
As more photographers catch a glimpse of the hopper mid-production, it may not be long before SpaceX’s ambitious rocket takes off.
Related video: SpaceX BFR Overview Blueprint