Now that SpaceX has a successful test flight for its Starhopper rocket prototype in the rear-view mirror, CEO Elon Musk has his sights set on finishing a prototype of Starship, the vehicle that the aerospace company hopes will one day transport up to 100 people to both the moon and Mars.
SpaceX is currently building orbital Starship prototypes at facilities in Texas and Florida, and Musk on Monday tweeted a few photos of the progress at the former site.
"Just left Starship Texas build site. Very proud of progress SpaceX team has made!" Musk wrote in the tweet, which also features four photos of what Musk says is a nine-meter wide dome-shaped bulkhead as it's prepared to be placed atop the stainless steel cylindrical frame of the prototype spacecraft.
The photos also show a massive structure, which Musk calls a "windbreak," that's used to block the Texas winds that damaged SpaceX's Starhopper rocket prototype in January.
The goal of the Starhopper flight tests is to iron out the launch and landing processes of spaceflight, while the Starship itself is being built for actual spaceflight.
SpaceX had a successful launch and landing flight test for its Starhopper rocket in July, a short test in which the prototype rocket hovered several dozen feet in the air (the company's goal was to reach 65 feet) before landing again at a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. The next test for the reusable rocket, which will look to fly more than 650 feet next time, could come sometime in August, Musk said in a tweet.
The Starhopper rocket is essentially a scaled-down version of the eventual SpaceX Starship, powered by one Raptor engine whereas the Starship will have three Raptor engines to make it capable of long-distance space flight (and the Super Heavy booster that will launch the spacecraft will have up to 31 Raptor engines).
On July 19, Musk tweeted that SpaceX was aiming for full Starship flight tests within "2 to 3 months" (which would be either September or October), though the Starhopper flight tests were met with delays, including a fireball erupting from the rocket prototype in one test earlier in July.
SpaceX's plans for the Starship include using it to send a group of artists on a tourism flight around the moon in 2023. But Musk's ultimate goal is to use the Starship to reach Mars with an unmanned flight by 2022, with flights transporting humans to the Red Planet as soon as 2024. Whether or not SpaceX is able to reach the moon and Mars by those dates is still up in the air, as Musk is also known for setting aggressive timelines that are often the source of skepticism and do not always come to fruition.
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