The Starship, SpaceX's under-development rocket set to take humans to the moon and Mars, has made a new appearance in prototype form.
On Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk shared an image via his Twitter page of two prototype models. The firm is currently developing the Starship at the Boca Chica facility in Texas. The image shows the "SN5" prototype that launched earlier this month alongside a new "SN6" model.
The image demonstrates the impressive size of these early models, even as they lack the features expected in the final design. The final ship is expected to measure 50 meters or 160 feet, with a diameter measuring nine meters or 30 feet. The Super Heavy booster that will help it leave Earth is expected to add a further 70 meters (230 feet), which with its two-meter (six feet) legs means the whole ship will stand 122 meters (400 feet) tall.
That sheer size was on display Wednesday, with an image that showed tiny figures and cars at the base of the ship. The full ship is expected to take up to 100 people in space at a time with a pressurized cabin space measuring around 1,000 cubic meters.
The "SN5" ship has had a busy month. It was the first ship to successfully fly, launching 150 meters or 500 feet into the air on August 4 using a single Raptor engine. The final ship is expected to use six engines.
Replying to a question from a Twitter user called "flcnhvy," Musk explained that the ships in the photo sport very similar heat shields:
"Same hex tiles, slightly different mounting method. Need bigger sections of tiles to see how they hold up with cryo shrinkage, pressure expansion & body bending."
SpaceX previously demonstrated the strength of its hex tiles in January 2019, where it raised the temperature to 1,100 degrees Celsius or 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The shields will be much needed, as the Starship is expected to enter the atmosphere at speeds of around 16,777 mph.
Musk also explained that the next prototypes will make some previously-expected tweaks:
"SN7 will be new alloy test tank taken to burst pressure. SN8 will have body flaps & nosecone."
The "SN5" prototype was expected to feature the nosecone, but the ship that flew this month was missing the feature. The "Mk.1" first full-size prototype that Musk unveiled in September 2019 sported these features, but the ship ultimately blew up during a test.
As for the alloys, SpaceX has been experimenting with changes in the material. In June it switched from a 301 alloy to 304L for one of its test tanks. The following month, Musk explained that the company was "rapidly changing alloy constituents & forming methods," changes that would also surface on the Starship.
SpaceX is now expected to host a series of further "hop tests" with its prototypes, paving the way for the rocket's first mission. In July 2019, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales Jonathan Hofeller claimed the mission could take place in 2021.
The Inverse analysis – Musk's image is cool, but it's interesting to hear that SpaceX is now aiming to introduce expected cosmetic features with "SN8." This is something fans had already assumed, as eagle-eyed observers had spotted "SN8" components around the Boca Chica facility. Musk's post confirms that this is indeed the plan.
The confirmation comes after NASASpaceflight reported in July that "SN8" will use three Raptor engines to complete a higher-altitude test flight. While "SN5" looked like a silo soaring, it could be "SN8" that brings the striking image of this developing spaceship soaring in the air.
THE STARSHIP’S JOURNEY, SUMMARIZED
- November 2018 – BFR, first announced in September 2017, gets renamed toStarship.
- December 2018 – Musk confirms the new ship has switched to stainless steel.
- January 2019 – Shortened “Starhopper” prototype unveiled and Musk explains the switch to steel.
- February 2019 – Raptor engine beats a long-standing rocket record.
- April 2019 – Starhopper completes a tethered “hop.”
- July 2019 – Starhopper launches 20 meters (67 feet).
- August 2019 – Starhopper launches 150 meters (500 feet).
- September 2019 – Starship Mk.1 full-size prototype unveiled.
- May 2020 – Starship SN4 full-size prototype completes a static test fire.
- August 2020 – Starship SN5 launches 150 meters (500 feet).