The flight-test version of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle could be ready to take its first short “hopping” excursion in a matter of weeks, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said over the weekend.
That test rocket won’t be flying through space though — it will be used for suborbital test flights. “Orbital version is taller, has thicker skins (won’t wrinkle) & a smoothly curving nose section,” Musk said in another tweet.
The Starship rocket is intended to be a key component of Musk’s plan to land on — and one day colonize — Mars. The plan is for the 100-passenger Starship to be blasted into space by SpaceX’s upcoming “Super Heavy” rocket, which itself may take its first test flight later this year. The Starship will then land on Mars, and take off and return to Earth. Musk has said he hopes to launch a Mars mission by the early 2020s.
The engines are expected to be test-fired next month, and Musk has said he expects the first Starship test flights in March or April.
This work is taking place at both SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and the company’s test site in South Texas, near the border city of Brownsville. Indeed, the hopper flights will take off from this latter facility.
When they’re up and running, both Starship and the Super Heavy will rely on SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engine, which is currently in development. The engines on the Starship test vehicle will be “a blend of Raptor development & operational parts,” Musk said in another tweet Saturday. The first of these hopper engines will probably be test-fired next month, he added. (The engines that power SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket are Merlins.)