SpaceX’s Starship “hopper” has transformed from a pile of steel into something that looks a lot more like a rocket, new photos revealed on Thursday. The test rocket, due to launch sometime this year, will demonstrate the capabilities of the larger Starship planned to send the first humans to Mars and kickstart a new era of space exploration.
The images, captured at SpaceX’s Boca Chica test facility in Texas, show the “hopper” has started to resemble the concept image published by CEO Elon Musk earlier this week, with a stainless steel finish that Musk described as looking like “liquid silver.” This is not the final rocket, as while it has the same 30-foot diameter as the planned Starship, the eventual rocket is expected to be much taller. Initial plans outlined in September 2017 showed what was then called the “BFR” measuring 348 feet tall, but Musk announced in November 2018 the rocket had undergone a redesign that was “delightfully counter-intuitive.”
The tests are key to the company’s future plans. Following a successful series of jumps of a few hundred kilometers with the “hopper,” SpaceX is aiming to complete high-altitude, high velocity tests sometime next year. These may also involve orbital flight, as Musk has said the chances of that next year are at 60 percent and rising thanks to the redesign.
From there, SpaceX is planning a number of ambitious missions, like sending Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon with a team of six to eight artists in 2023. Thee company is also planning to host a manned mission to Mars, with the first two unmanned rockets scheduled for 2022 and a further four, two of which will be manned, making their way to the planet in 2024. The rocket is ideal for such missions due to its liquid oxygen and methane fuel, which makes refuelling using the planet’s resources a possibility. This could also lead to hopping to further planets.
As for when the tests will start? Musk claimed this week it could start as soon as four weeks’ from now.
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