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See Elon Musk's prototype Mars rocket as SpaceX prepares for test flights

SpaceX chief Elon Musk
MARK RALSTON | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk may have his sights set on Mars, but his SpaceX Starship will have to make it to orbit first.

That important step is reportedly next on the agenda for Musk's SpaceX and its Starship rocket prototype, which is under construction at facilities in Texas and Florida.

On Tuesday, Musk tweeted new photos showing the latest construction updates for the shiny, stainless steel Starship that's being built at SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas facility.

And in typical Musk fashion, the billionaire tech mogul couldn't resist a pop culture reference alongside the new images.

One photo shows the view from the inside of a hangar filled with spare parts and construction equipment in the foreground and the shiny cylindrical body of the Starship prototype visible in the background. "Droid Junkyard, Tatooine," Musk captioned the photo in an apparent joking reference to the fictional planet from the "Star Wars" movie franchise.

In a second tweet, Musk posted a photo showing a metal dome being lifted by wires to be placed on top of the Starship's cylindrical shaft, accompanied by another joking caption: "Area 51 of Area 51."

On September 9, SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for the transmitter that will be mounted in the Starship prototype, a sign that Musk then confirmed on Twitter meant the company is closer to launching an orbit-class test flight. On the test flight, the reusable Starship rocket will aim to reach an altitude of more than 12 miles above the Earth's surface before returning safely to the ground.

VIDEO1:3601:36
Watch SpaceX fly prototype Mars rocket in highest and longest test launch yet

In August, SpaceX completed its final test flight of the Starhopper rocket prototype, a scaled-down version of the Starship that's designed for shorter flights. The Starhopper, which is powered by just one Raptor engine as opposed to the three engines used by the Starship, flew about 500 feet off the ground before landing again. (The Super Heavy booster that will launch the Starship will have up to 31 Raptor engines).

In July, Musk said SpaceX was aiming for full Starship flight tests within up to three months, though it is worth noting that the Starhopper flight tests faced delays, such as a fireball that erupted from the prototype in an earlier test in July.

Ultimately, SpaceX wants to use the Starship to send a group of artists on a tourism flight around the moon sometime in 2023. But Musk's more high-profile goal for the rocket involves launching an unmanned flight to Mars by 2022, with flights transporting humans to the Red Planet as soon as 2024.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not SpaceX will actually meet those target dates for reaching the moon and Mars, as Musk has been known to set aggressive timelines that do not always materialize.

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Elon Musk reveals the complete SpaceX spacesuit for the first time
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