SpaceX sets target on rapid Starship development as Mars gains focus

Photo: SpaceX

On May 30, SpaceX did something no other private company has: launch astronauts on its own rocket to the International Space Station. The aerospace company was founded 18 years ago, with the goal of sending people into space. It’s president and CEO, Elon Musk, constantly talks about his dreams of making humanity a multi-planet species.

To that end, Musk has charged SpaceX with building a rocket capable of carrying as many as 100 people beyond low-Earth orbit. The craft, known as Starship, is the latest and great in Musk’s increasing larger rockets. Engineers have been busy working on designing new engines as well as increasingly more complex prototypes to put the burgeoning craft through a rapid development process.

Now that SpaceX has achieved human spaceflight, and (if all goes according to plan) should receive certification for regular flights to the space station, Musk is turning his sights back to Mars.

As such, he is focusing more of the company’s efforts on Starship development. In an email obtained by CNBC, Musk wrote, “Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship.”

The first Starship appeared on the flat Texas landscape in early 2019. Eagle-eyed onlookers near the company’s facilities in South Texas spotted the craft and have been monitoring its development process. For a while, Musk had dueling prototypes under construction, tasking a team in Florida to compete with the team in Texas for a little intra-company competition.

That was short-lived, as now SpaceX is keeping its Starship construction efforts confined to Texas. During a recent dramatic test firing of the craft’s attached raptor engine, the company’s fourth major prototype (dubbed SN4), went out in a blaze of glory. This lucky prototype had survived more rounds of testing than previous iterations, but still, the loss of the craft is a bit of a setback for SpaceX.

SN4 did not survive an explosion that occurred during a routine static fire test. Credit: NASASpaceflight/BocaChicaGal

On Saturday, Musk tweeted out a photo showing the company’s Starship facilities in Boca Chica, saying that more would soon be added, including a massive bay that rivaled NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building.

Starship has already snagged a coveted NASA contract that will send humans to the lunar surface in 2024, but to do so, it must get off the ground. Perhaps a more concentrated effort will enable the craft to do so.

An early prototype, called Starhopper, took flight in August, but ever since, the company has failed to produce a new design that can fly. They came very close to SN4. It’s predecessor, SN5, is close to being finished, and the company is already working on SN6, so perhaps we will soon see a Starship fly.



SpaceX sets target on rapid Starship development as Mars gains focus
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