The key component of Elon Musk’s dream of establishing a Martian colony is being painstakingly welded together on a rural strip of land in Southern Texas. The company’s Boca Chica facility is home to the Starship “hopper” and its construction has attracted space enthusiasts from all walks of life. This stainless steel prototype is a model of how the second stage of SpaceX’s planned Starship rocket will eventually look, and its testing is one of the first key steps toward establishing the monstrous launch system needed to eventually send crewed missions to Mars and the Moon.
Austin Barnard, a 20-year-old astronautical engineering student, is one of the many space travel fans that traveled to the secluded area of the Lone Star State to catch a glimpse of the hopper. He tells Inverse that he recently picked up photography as a hobby but managed to catch some of the best fan-made footage of the model vessel available when he visited the grounds Monday.
“I got into photography four weeks ago…. I started going out there on my own to just take pictures and post them on my Twitter and hopefully get my friends inspired like I am,” he says. “I never knew that I would be recognized at all.”
While Barnard’s foray into photography began only a few weeks ago, these recent trips were not his first time hanging out near the Boca Chica site. A Texas native, his first pilgrimage to the Brownsville facility was all the way back in 2016. All that patience (plus some newly acquired photography equipment, including a drone) were ultimately what went into getting this 22-second clip of the hopper in all of its glistening glory.
So how’d it get that glorious glisten? For now at least, the Hopper itself is completely made out of stainless steel though Musk revealed on Tuesday that the final product would be made out of the same material.
The experimental vessel is roughly 30 feet wide and 180 feet tall when it’s put together, though the nose cone and base are separate in Barnard’s footage. What comes next is a series of multiple “hop tests,” or trial suborbital flights, to determine if the design is solid enough to be the basis of what eventually goes into space. In a December 8 tweet, Musk said that it could take off “in ~4 weeks.” This could suggest that SpaceX is aiming to fly the hopper in January. But that might have to wait a little longer after Wednesday.
That’s because a storm caused some minor damage to the hopper. Elon Musk said in a tweet that it’ll “take a few weeks to repair.” Getting to space is also about mastering some pretty tricky timing in addition to developing the revolutionary tech that will ultimately take us there.