It looks like SpaceX's shiny new Starship prototype has entered the test phase.
The full-size Starship Mk1 vehicle "breathed" during an apparent pressure test yesterday evening (Nov. 18) at SpaceX's facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica.
The milestone was captured and posted on Twitter by @SpacePadreIsle, which has been closely tracking activity at the Boca Chica site. Another Starship watcher, @bocachicagal, got good footage of the pressure test as well. She's a member of the site NASASpaceflight, which shared her video on YouTube.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed the stainless-steel Mk1 in late September during his annual update about Starship, the company's deep-space transportation system. The architecture consists of a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) spaceship called Starship and a huge rocket known as Super Heavy.
Both of these vehicles will be rapidly and repeatedly reusable, Musk has stressed, helping to slash the cost of spaceflight and enable ambitious exploration feats. SpaceX envisions Starship helping humanity colonize the moon and Mars, and perhaps journey even farther afield, out to the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Starship will also fly uncrewed missions — for example, launching satellites to Earth orbit and ferrying science gear to the moon. Indeed, NASA announced yesterday that SpaceX is now eligible to bid on lunar delivery contracts using Starship and Super Heavy.
The testing milestones may start coming fast and furious now for the Mk1. During the September unveiling, Musk said that the newly assembled prototype will perform uncrewed test flights to an altitude of about 12 miles (20 kilometers), perhaps beginning in the next few months.
And similar activities could soon be taking place on the Atlantic Coast as well. SpaceX is building a full-size Starship prototype called the Mk2 at its facilities on Florida's Space Coast, reasoning that some intracompany competition will improve Starship's final design.
That final, operational version could start launching satellites to Earth orbit as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. And during a NASA teleconference yesterday, company president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX aims to have Starship ready for its first uncrewed moon mission by 2022.
The company is targeting a crewed mission for the next year: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a round-the-moon Starship trip, with liftoff currently scheduled for 2023.
The Mk1 and Mk2 won't be the first Starship prototypes to get off the ground. A short, stubby, single-engine version called Starhopper aced a few brief uncrewed flights in South Texas before being retired in late August. (The Mk1 and Mk2 have three engines, at least initially, whereas the final Starship will have six, Musk has said.)
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Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.