The SpaceX Starship is about to tackle its biggest challenge yet, and a new rendering shows the ship in action.
On Wednesday, Minnesota-based hobby 3D artist Bart Caldwell shared a rendering via Twitter of the under-development spaceship completing its planned test launch. The "SN8" prototype, under construction at the Boca Chica facility in Texas, is expected to launch 15 kilometers, or around 50,000 feet, into the air – the highest any Starship has gone before, and a big step toward a full orbital flight.
"More great renderings!" SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote in response to the render. "Significant improvements coming to the welds."
It's the latest in a series of impressive renderings from Caldwell, better known in Reddit and Twitter SpaceX communities by the name "Neopork." A visualization in June 2020 showed how the Starship could deploy 240 Starlink satellites at once, a big improvement over the 60 sent up by a single Falcon 9. Another rendering posted the following month showed the Starship fairing with the Falcon 9 inside.
Responding to Musk's most recent comments, Caldwell tells Inverse that he is thankful to Musk and the team for developing the Starship system, one that has "captivated the space community and the world."
"It has got me dreaming again and feeling inspired about the future which is really important for me as a person and as an artist," Caldwell says. "The huge response from the space community has been the biggest reward for me, but Elon Musk himself complimenting my work is just a cherry on top and it means a lot."
In addition to the two images spotted by Musk on Twitter, Caldwell also shared with Inverse four more renderings of the ship from different angles.
Caldwell's renderings feature a number of impressive design flairs. In this one, fans can see the "mach diamonds" that form behind an engine. These diamonds have been seen in real-world Raptor tests, and they're formed by shock waves from high-pressure gas expanding into a low-pressure atmosphere.
The ship is expected to tackle SpaceX's boldest missions. Designed to cover launches currently undertaken by Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, the Starship will send up to 150 tons or 100 people into space at a time. Its fully-reusable design, powered by liquid oxygen and methane, enables astronauts to fly to Mars, refuel with a depot constructed on the planet, and either return home or venture out further to establish a "planet-hopping" network of fueling depots.
Expectations are high. In November 2018, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went as far as to declare that the planet-hopping network could "evaporate" a "whole category of war," due to the abundance of resources available in space.
SN8 is the latest step toward this ambitious ship. SpaceX completed a "hop test" to 500 feet with a miniaturized Starship, dubbed Starhopper, back in August 2019. The following month, Musk unveiled a full-size prototype dubbed "Mk.1." The full-size "SN5" model launched to 500 feet in August 2020.
Unlike earlier launches that used a single Raptor engine, SN8 will use three Raptor engines in a triangle configuration. These engines began installation last weekend. The final model will feature the same three sea-level Raptor engines, alongside three larger Raptors designed for the vacuum of space.
The final setup could be much taller. The ship itself measures 30 feet wide and 160 feet tall. When paired with the Super Heavy booster, expected to sport 28 Raptor engines, the full configuration may measure around 400 feet in size.
The Inverse analysis – Musk is highly supportive of fan-made Starship renderings, encouraging artists that have been inspired by SpaceX's efforts. Sweden-based Erik Corshammar, whose work received praise from Musk last week, told Inverse that he believes Musk's engagement "has been a big contributing fact to the growing excitement about space in general."
In many ways, artistic engagement is central to the Starship project. The "Dear Moon" trip around the Moon scheduled for 2023 will take six to eight artists around the Moon, while the design for the ship bears similarities to ships seen in The Adventures of Tintin.
As the first orbital launch approaches, expect more artist engagement around this visually striking ship.
THE STARSHIP’S JOURNEY, SUMMARIZED
- November 2018 – BFR, first announced in September 2017, gets renamed to Starship.
- 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).