The Starship, SpaceX's ambitious vehicle designed to send humans to the moon, Mars, and beyond, is taking shape.
On Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk shared an image on Twitter of two of the rocket's tanks in the midbay. These tanks have made regular appearances in the firm's test, as they pile on the pressure to see if they're able to handle the tough conditions of the far reaches of space.
Musk also suggested Wednesday that SpaceX could soon reveal more details about the Starship project. In response to a Twitter post from space photographer Austin Barnard, Musk wrote that September "sounds about right" for another presentation.
The image is a sneak peek at the sort of scale SpaceX is aiming for with its giant ships. Since the rocket's predecessor was first announced in September 2017, it has undergone numerous design changes and transformed into the fully-reusable stainless steel behemoth seen today. But with the first commercial flights not expected until 2021 at the earliest, size comparisons have been few and far between. What we do know is the ship will measure somewhere close to 400 feet tall, 30 feet in diameter, and offer space to send over 150 tons or 100 people into space at once.
Wednesday's image helps put all that in perspective. As noted by a Twitter user called "mattwgn1983," the top of the two giant tanks shows two workers getting the future of space travel ready to go. These figures look like ants compared to the enormous scale of the tanks, practically eclipsed by their sheer size:
It may not be long before fans find out more about the state of the Starship project. Musk suggested Wednesday that the firm could host another Starship presentation in Septemeber, as it has done for the past four years:
- In 2016, Musk detailed the Interplanetary Transport System at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
- In 2017, Musk outlined what was then known as the "BFR" at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. This ship would be used for Mars missions, but could also take over smaller missions currently completed by the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
- In 2018, Musk announced at SpaceX's California headquarters that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa would take the "BFR" on a trip around the moon with six to eight artists in 2023.
- In 2019, Musk unveiled the first full-size prototype of the Starship at the Boca Chica facility in Texas.
Since the 2019 unveiling, SpaceX has been putting miniature prototype tanks through their paces. The firm's goal has been to build a tank that can reach pressures of around 8.5 bar at cryogenic levels, enough for human flights. The pressure of the atmosphere at sea level is around one bar. Results have been mixed: SpaceX reached 7.5 bar at room temperatures in January 2020, but a cryo proof test on the full-size prototype in March led to a dramatic explosion.
On Wednesday, Teslarati reported that SpaceX had blown up its third test tank. This tank used a new 304L stainless steel alloy, offering better malleability than the previously-used 301 alloy for around 10 percent higher prices.
The Inverse analysis – SpaceX is pushing ahead with perfecting its Starship materials, and these images are not necessarily representative of the final product. But they do highlight one of the most impressive aspects of the project: when paired with its Super Heavy booster, the Starship is going to stand far taller than every other rocket the firm has made.
The rocket designed to send humans to Mars may not only complete impressive missions, but it could look cool as it does it.