Skip to main content

SpaceX rolls out new Starship prototype for tests (video)

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 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.

Video: Watch SpaceX's Starship SN4 roll out to the test pad
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy rocket in pictures

SpaceX's Starship SN4 prototype stands atop a test stand at the company's Boca Chica, Texas test stand ahead of tank trials on April 23, 2020.  (Image credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk via Twitter)

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."

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram


OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.