Reach for the Stars

SpaceX Starship: Astonishing photos show Mars-bound ship ahead of huge test

SpaceX gears up to launch its Starship rocket to all-new heights.

As Starship gears up for its next big challenge, new images show the true size of the still under-development SpaceX rocket designed to one day transport humans to Mars.

This weekend, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared photos on Twitter of a fresh prototype of the Starship at the firm’s Texas facility, Starbase, which houses SpaceX’s most ambitious rocket yet.

Here’s the background — SpaceX aims to launch a prototype Starship on an orbital trip in the second half of 2021. The plan, first revealed in an FCC document in May, involves launching the ship into orbit with the help of SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster.

The flight, expected to last around 90 minutes, will culminate in the ship completing a targeted landing on one of the SpaceX drone ships stationed in the ocean some 60 miles northwest of Hawaii.

The orbital test is the next step in the plan to bring Starship to life. First unveiled in 2017 under the name “BFR,” Starship is designed to be a fully reusable ship able to send more than 100 tons or 100 people into space at one time. The ship will take on both the satellite and crew launching duties of the SpaceX rockets Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and enable more ambitious missions to take place — like a crewed mission to Mars.

SpaceX plans to send the first humans to Mars in the middle of this decade and establish the first city on Mars by 2050. No pressure.

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What the photos show — In the new batch of photos, Musk stands in front of the Super Heavy booster that will support the orbital flight prototype. While a Starship prototype has completed a high-altitude flight, the Super Heavy booster has never flown before.

Musk and X standing in front of the booster.Twitter

When paired together, the Super Heavy booster and Starship prototype will measure around 400 feet tall. The booster alone is 230 feet tall — comparable in height to SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket.

In one photo, seen above, Musk cradles his son X Æ A-Xii. Musk’s partner, Canadian signer Claire Boucher (also known as Grimes), gave birth to their son on May 4, 2020.

In the foreground of the same image, a forklift rolls a Raptor engine into position. The booster will use 33 engines — equating to half a million pounds of thrust at launch.

SpaceX is working to build Raptor engines at rapid speed. Last week, the firm announced it had built its 100th Raptor engine.

SpaceX's 100th Raptor engine completed.Twitter

Musk shared another series of photos with the caption “Starbase is moving at Warp 9.” The comment is a reference to Star Trek, where warp factors are used to refer to spaceships’ high speeds.

The launch table coming together.Twitter

The images show the launch table, which will support Starship, coming together. The table is designed to pair with the launch tower seen on the right.

Lowering the launch table section into position.Twitter

Musk shared a clearer shot of the launch tower in a previous set of images shared on July 1:

Musk's photos of the booster and launch tower.Twitter

Musk revealed on Twitter that the launch table section pictured weighs about 370 tons.

The launch table will support the upcoming Starship orbital mission.Twitter

The next step, Musk explained, will be to check if the table is level and matches the booster fittings. The team should find out Tuesday if they were successful.