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A look back at SpaceX's 2019 Starship Development in Texas

A look back at SpaceX's 2019 Starship Development in Texas

• Evelyn J. Arevalo 

SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, envisions a future where humans are a multi-planet species. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to build a sustainable city on the red planet by the year 2050. Musk mentioned that building the first permanent city on Mars will take 1,000 Starships and timeframe of 20 years. 

To achieve this they are building the world's most powerful rocket. Capable of launching 100 passengers and 100 tons of cargo out of Earth orbit, enabling humans to embark on long duration voyages to the Moon, Mars and beyond!

"Consciousness is a rare and precious thing, we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness...We should do our very best to become a multi-planet species, extend consciousness beyond Earth and we should do it now."

-Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX

Starship will be a two-stage, stainless-steel spacecraft that consists of a spaceship and massive rocket, Super Heavy. Starship will have a diameter of 9 meters and a height of 50 meters with 6 integrated Raptor engines to travel through space. The Super Heavy rocket will only be needed to take Starship out of Earth's atmosphere. It will be a massive rocket standing 68 meters tall. With 37 Raptor engines that will have a thrust capability of 72 meganewtons (MN) --making SpaceX's Starship the world's most powerful rocket compared to the thrust of 35 MN in the Saturn V rocket, that took humans to the moon during NASA's Apollo mission.

SpaceX teams did a lot of hard work in 2019, from building the first prototypes of Starship, to testing their next-generation rocket engine in a debut flight. Here's a look back at 2019 Starship development.


In January 2019, SpaceX started to build the first prototype of Starship at their assembly facility in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Texas. The first prototype is a stainless steel craft named Starhopper, because the craft would only be used to conduct a series of short "hop" tests, involving the craft flying at very low altitudes above Boca Chica.  


SpaceX teams worked very quick. By January 8 they had finished building the stainless-steel Starhopper.


January 9, 2019 the craft was fully assembled, with 3 Raptor engine nozzles and 3 landing legs. It looked amazing, like the retro rockets featured in old-fashioned Science fiction comic books.


The days that followed in the month of January, SpaceX engineers unassembled Starhopper to allow additional assembly work to continue. They still had a lot of more work to do involving, inner construction like installing sensors, avionics, tanks, plumbing, attitude thrusters, etc.

Source: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo 

Then, January 22/23 mother nature did her thing and Starhopper's top section blew over.
Musk stated that, "50 mph winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair."



By January 31st, SpaceX was preparing to test fire their next generation rocket engine, the Raptor. Musk said that SpaceX would initially develop "one 200 metric ton thrust engine common across ship & booster to reach the moon as fast as possible. Next versions will split to vacuum-optimized (380+ sec Isp) & sea-level thrust optimized (~250 ton)."



In February SpaceX continued to work on the inner parts of Starhopper's bottom section at their assembly site in Boca Chica.

Meanwhile in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted the first firing of the Raptor engine on February 3. The engine was later shipped to Boca Chica to conduct it's debut flight.



In February work continued on the bottom section of Starhopper.



The month of March started to get exciting. SpaceX moved the bottom section of Starhopper to the launch site and begun to build a new Starship prototype. 



SpaceX decided to go ahead and test their Raptor engine with the bottom portion of Starhopper in April. First they conducted a tethered engine test, that involves firing the engine for a few seconds while the craft is tied to the ground.

The Raptor engine is unlike any other rocket engine in rocketry, it designed to enable astronauts to set up refueling stations on Mars upon arrival because they are powered by a combination of cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen. So Future Martians could dig water ice from beneath the Red Planet's soil and capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in order to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen by using using electrolysis and the Sabatier process to create fuel.


Progress continued with Starhopper, engineers were preparing to conduct a series of hop test flights with this scaled-down Starship prototype. 

Simultaneously in April, SpaceX started building their second prototype of Starship named Mark 1 or Mk1'. This craft featured a new design. 



In May, engineers continued working on Starhopper at the Boca Chica launch pad to prepare it for it's debut flight, a 20 meter hop test.

While Starship MK1 started to take shape at the assembly site. Located about 3 miles away from the launch pad where Starhopper was. 




June arrived and the Raptor engine as well! This month Starhopper was fitted with a flight ready Raptor engine.

And Starship MK1's top nose cone was fully assembled. Musk revealed that this new prototype would feature aerodynamic fins. So they weren't quite done with the top portion assembly yet. 



The next month, on July 17 SpaceX was ready to conduct a static-fire test which is a routine engine ignition before every spacecraft flight. During this test, engineers make sure the craft is working at optimal levels and use sensors to try to detect any issues.  



By July 24, SpaceX attempted a 20 meter  flight test but it was aborted. Then on July 25 SpaceX had a successful debut hop test with a single Raptor engine.  



There was also significant progress in the construction of their second prototype of Starship this month. 




August was the best month for Starship development at Boca Chica this year. SpaceX conducted a 150 meter flight with the scaled down prototype Starhopper.

On August 26, they attempted the flight but aborted the mission due to ignition issues. 


The next day, August 27, 2019, SpaceX conducted the 150 meter Starhopper launch and it was amazing to watch the shiny stainless-steel craft fly! 

This flight showed off the Raptor engine's power. SpaceX successfully launched and landed Starhopper on a nearby launch pad. They did an incredible job. 



After this launch, Starhopper completed it's mission. Musk said they would convert it to a "vertical engine test stand." 

SpaceX also hyped up their work pace in August to finish constructing Starship MK1 to prepare it for the unveiling event of it's new design, scheduled for September 28 the following month. 




All focus and work efforts were now shifted to Starship MK1 construction. SpaceX quickly finished assembly of this second stainless-teel prototype during the month of September. The new design featured 3 Raptor engines, 4 fins, and retractable landing legs hidden behind steel mount covers. By September 22 the craft was in it's final phase of assembly.



September 27, The Starship MK1 prototype took shape.



On September 28, 2019 the new design of Starship was revealed during a SpaceX Presentation in Boca Chica, Texas. Where SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talked about the company's vision for the future as well as Starship's tech and design features. 

Starship MK1 looked beautiful and you can really see all of the hard work SpaceX teams put into the craft's development. 

All Image source: SpaceX



SpaceX planned to launch the Starship MK1 prototype on it's first test flight by October but they faced a few delays along the way.  They prepared the craft for the entire month for it's debut flight that would feature 3 Raptor engines. The debut flight would take the craft 20 kilometers above Boca Chica. But the preparations took longer than expected. By October 30, 2019 they unassembled the craft to finally transport it to the launch pad. 




After many days of assembly and preparations, SpaceX started to conduct the first series of pre-flight tests in November 18/19. 

On November 20, SpaceX conducted a pressurization test of the bottom portion of Starship Mk1, where it was partially destroyed during an explosive test.


This explosion isn't an unexpected occurrence, since the craft is in an early-stage of development. During this test, they checked if the vehicle had any leaks and if the structure could endure extreme pressure. SpaceX said in a statement:

"The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected."

This test failure affected the scheduled 20 kilometer flight that was supposed to happen in Texas this year. 

Musk said that SpaceX will now move on to build their third prototype Starship Mk3. 




This month of December, SpaceX shipped pre-built Starship parts to Texas to speed up Starship Mk3's assembly. [Read more: SpaceX paused Starship assembly in Florida and delivered pre-built parts to Boca Chica Texas]

Musk said that Starship Mk3 will feature a new design. Next year will be filled with exciting new tests, the company aims to develop the orbital version of Starship to launch it into space! Guaranteed to be exciting!

Ad Astra! 


About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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