SpaceX’s ‘Starship’ hopper prototype could make 1st test flight in weeks, Elon Musk says

Artist’s illustration of the “hopper” test-flight version of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle, shared via Twitter by founder and CEO Elon Musk on Jan. 5, 2019.
(Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter)

SpaceX may be a prototype Mars colonizing spaceship out for a spin very quickly.

The flight-test version of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle could be ready for the first short “hopping” excursion in a matter of weeks, founder and CEO Elon Musk said at the weekend.

“Aiming for 4 weeks, which probably means 8 weeks due to unforeseen issues,” Musk tweeted on Saturday morning (Jan. 5), in response to a Twitter follower who asked when the first hopper test would take place. [Images: SpaceX’s Huge Spaceship from Mars Colony & Beyond]

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Musk also tweeted a picture of the test vehicle, with a three-finned ship that looks a lot like the rocket the comic book character Tintin used in the 1954 adventure “explorers on the Moon.”

“Starship test vehicle under the general assembly will resemble this image when you’re done. Operational Spacecraft would be based on windows, etc.” Musk tweeted.

SpaceX is developing Starship and a giant rocket called the Super Heavy to take people to and from the moon, Mars and other destinations throughout the solar system. (The reusable duo was previously known as the BFR, but Musk changed the name recently.)

The first manned Red Planet mission for the rocket-and 100-passenger Ship, it could come as early as in the mid-2020 if development and testing goes well, Musk has said.

This work is taking place at both SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and the company’s test site in Southern Texas, near the border city of Brownsville. Indeed, the hopper flights take-off of this latter facility.

As she walks, both Starship and the Super Heavy reliance on SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engine, which is currently in development. The engines of the Spacecraft test vehicle will be “a mix of Raptor development and operational parts,” Musk said in another tweet Saturday. The first of these hopper motors will probably be test-fired next month, he added. (The engines that power SpaceX is the workhorse of the Falcon 9 rocket are Merlins.)

Hoppers are a standard part of the rocket of SpaceX development. For example, the company flew Grasshopper test vehicle in 2012 and 2013, to gain the knowledge necessary to land and re-fly Falcon 9 first stages. The highest Grasshopper flight reached a maximum altitude of about 2500 feet (750 metres).

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