SpaceX moved its latest Starship prototype to its Texas proving grounds Thursday (April 23) ahead of a new round of spacecraft tests.
The Starship prototype, a gleaming cylinder of stainless steel, is SpaceX's fourth test vehicle for a massive reusable spacecraft designed to fly to the moon, Mars and beyond. Called Starship SN4 (for Serial No. 4), it's the centerpiece of a launch system SpaceX hopes will one day lead to a colony on Mars.
"Starship SN4 tank on test stand," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter while sharing a photo of the test vehicle.
Video captured by Spadre.com showed SpaceX crews slowly moving the Starship prototype from its construction site, near the South Texas village of Boca Chica, to a nearby test stand. Starship SN4 is expected to undergo cryogenic pressure tests similar to those SpaceX has performed on its three predecessors, some of which have since been destroyed.
On April 2, SpaceX's Starship SN3 appeared to collapse during a cyrogenic pressure test with liquid nitrogen designed to prove the vehicle could withstand high pressures when filled with super-cold fuel for an actual flight. Musk later said that leaky valves were to blame.
SpaceX's Starship SN2 successfully passed a similar pressure test on March 8. But nine days earlier, on Feb. 28, its predecessor SN1 was lost in a test. SpaceX's first full-size Starship prototype, called the Mk1, was destroyed during its own pressure test in November 2019. (SpaceX subsequently revamped Starship's design, leading to the SN series.)
Musk has said repeatedly that SpaceX will continue testing new Starship versions with the goal of launching a 12-mile-high (20 kilometers) hop sometime this year. In August 2019, SpaceX successfully launched a smaller prototype, the single-engine Starhopper, on a short hop that aimed for a height of 500 feet (150 meters).
In recent weeks, SpaceX has unveiled a users' guide for Starship to advertise its launch capabilities for massive payloads. The company has already signed one customer for a trip around the moon using a Starship and its massive Super Heavy booster. That trip, booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, has been targeted for no earlier than 2023.
More recently, Musk has weighed in on Starship SN4's inevitable successors. SpaceX is already thinking about Starships SN5 and SN6, he added.
Starship SN5 should be more than a cylinder, and roll out with its upper tanks and a nosecone, Musk wrote on Twitter Tuesday (April 21).
"Definitely header tanks & nosecone on SN5, hopefully flaps too," Musk wrote. "Definitely flaps on SN6."
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