Image Source: SpaceX. Edit: Tesmanian.
SpaceX's ultimate goal is to take humans back to the moon and build a colony on Mars. They are in the process of developing a massive Starship that will be capable of carrying 100 passengers and tons of cargo on long space voyages one day. Starship could become the world's most powerful spaceship-rocket duo ever built. It will be a massive two part vehicle, consisting of Starship (the spaceship) and a giant rocket booster called Super Heavy. Super Heavy will only be needed to get out of Earth's atmosphere powered by 37 Raptor engines, it would return to Earth from space, like a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, landing vertically on a spaceport in order to be reused again. Starship will be able to arrive to the Moon and Mars solely powered by 6 Raptor engines.
The first prototypes of the craft have been under construction at SpaceX facilities in Texas and Florida. They first built Starhopper, which was a scaled down prototype of Starship, that was meant to test the power of one Raptor engine. SpaceX successfully conducted a series of low altitude "hop" tests above Boca Chica Beach, Texas. The final test of Starhopper was a flight of 150 meters, that demonstrated the company's ability to manufacture great Raptor engines and showcased their technological ability to steer the craft in mid-air to land it on a nearby pad.
After that successful flight, SpaceX moved on to develop a fully assembled prototype of Starship, known as Starship MK1 in Texas, also a simultaneous build in Florida, Starship Mk2. It took the company several months to build Mk1. By September SpaceX unveiled a shiny stainless-steel Starship, standing 50 meters tall and 9 meters wide. It inspired many to dream of travelling among the stars to other worlds upon looking at it.
Starship Mk1 at Boca Chica Texas. Image Source: Elon Musk
Their initial plan was to prepare the fully assembled Starship Mk1 to conduct a series of sub-orbital flight tests with 3 Raptor engines, the first flight would've been 20 kilometers. Engineers and mechanics prepared Starship Mk1 the following months, then took the bottom half of the craft from the assembly site to the nearby launch pad a couple of miles down the road in Boca Chica, to conduct some pre-flight tests. Meanwhile Starship Mk2 in Florida started taking shape. In November, SpaceX started to conduct a series of pre-flight tests. During a cryogenic test on Starship Mk1, engineers pressurized the craft to the max in order to take the stainless-steel structure to the limits and check for any leaks ~that's when the top dome structure of Starship Mk1 exploded out. SpaceX stated that the purpose of the test was "to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected." Stating they would move on to build a new craft, Starship Mk3.
Then plans changed. The CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk shared that SpaceX is now building the flight design version of Starship.
Was up all night with SpaceX team working on Starship tank dome production (most difficult part of primary structure). Dawn arrives … pic.twitter.com/SzyDSYUYOu— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2019
On Friday, December 27, Musk shared a video saying he pulled off an all nighter working alongside SpaceX teams at their assembly site located in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Texas. And that they are working on building a stainless-steel tank dome structure, he wrote via Twitter:
"Was up all night with SpaceX team working on Starship tank dome production (most difficult part of primary structure), Dawn arrives..."
It appears SpaceX teams have learned very quick about the first Starship prototypes' steel-structure design and Raptor engine during all the previous tests, that Musk decided to go ahead and move on to the next phase of Starship development. This next phase will leave all the Starship Mk edition prototypes behind, the company will now begin building the flight design version of Starship. Musk said via Twitter:
"We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0."
We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 28, 2019
This next production line of the craft could be referred to as Starship V1.0/SN1 through SN20 (SN stands for Serial Number). As SpaceX learns from the manufacturing and testing process they will incorporate some changes needed towards improving the craft. So the first twenty Starships Version 1.0 could feature slight changes different from one another. This craft could have up to 6 Raptor engines.
In addition, Musk gave a forecast for when a fully assembled Starship test flight would take place in Texas, Musk wrote via Twitter:
"Flight is hopefully 2 to 3 months away."
Flight is hopefully 2 to 3 months away— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 28, 2019
This phase of Starship development is guaranteed to be exciting! We will see a lot of hard-work take place at Boca Chica in the coming months before Starship V1.0/SN1 debut flight takes place. The city's website already announced future road closures at Boca Chica the first week of January, which means SpaceX will speed up their work pace. They could begin stacking Starship parts and conduct pre-flight preparation tests soon. Every test next year could be a potential success or an 'RUD' explosion added to the SpaceX blooper reel. But one thing is certain, every occurrence will take SpaceX closer towards developing a Starship that will one day revolutionize space travel and change the course of humanity's future forever. Read more: SpaceX Is Building The World's Most Powerful Rocket.
Good luck SpaceX!
(Writer's note: 'RUD' is an acronym for Rapid Unscheduled/Unintentional Disassembly in space flight.)
About the Author
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.