SpaceX’s Starship is taking shape. On Friday, CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company’s upcoming rocket, set to send the first humans to Mars within the coming decade, will take a step closer to reality in June with the unveiling of a new orbital prototype.
The prototype would place SpaceX on good course to meet its other deadlines. Musk first unveiled the Starship at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017, under the title of “BFR,” where he outlined his ambition to host a manned Mars mission by 2024. In September 2018, he told a press audience that SpaceX planned to complete “hop tests” at the firm’s Boca Chica facility in 2019, followed by high altitude, high-velocity flights in 2020, before moving onto orbital tests thereafter. However, Musk indicated this week that the chances of an orbital test as early as 2020 was 60 percent and rising, thanks to a new design.
Musk has yet to fully unveil this new design, which he described in November 2018 as “very exciting” and “delightfully counter-intuitive.” The new version is set to take inspiration from The Adventures of Tintin, the comic book series that depicted a rocket with three giant fins in the base in 1950’s Destination Moon and 1953’s Explorers on the Moon.
On Friday, Musk unveiled the completed “hopper” Starship, with a stainless steel design that Musk has likened to liquid silver. While it has the same 30-foot diameter as the planned final design, Musk has indicated that this version is shorter and lacks some of the planned features for the final design, like windows. These windows will be critical for a planned mission around the moon in 2023, where Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will take six to eight artists on a trip and encourage them to create works based on the experience.
An orbital test may depend on the success of the hop tests. Musk has claimed that a test could take place just four weeks from now.
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