Last week, Elon Musk's company flew a full-size prototype of its Mars-colonizing Starship spacecraft for the first time ever, sending a vehicle called the SN5 ("Serial No. 5") about 500 feet (150 meters) into the sky above the South Texas village of Boca Chica.
More such uncrewed test hops are coming from the company, and not just from the SN5. Indeed, the SN6 prototype is already at the launch pad at SpaceX's facilities near Boca Chica, and it may be the next Starship vehicle to get off the ground.
"Not sure yet, but hopefully. Will need leg & other repairs. Probably SN6 flies before SN5. We need to make flights simple & easy — many per day," Musk said via Twitter on Saturday (Aug. 8), responding to a follower who asked if SN5 will fly again.
SN5 and SN6 both have a single Raptor engine and will likely fly only on short test hops, similar to the one SN5 performed last week.
The SN7 was a test tank that SpaceX burst on purpose in a pressure test this past June. But the SN8 will be another flying prototype — one with body flaps and a nosecone, Musk said in a tweet on Tuesday.
That suggests the SN8 will fly relatively high — likely to a target altitude of about 12 miles (20 kilometers), if Musk's previous statements about the Starship test campaign are any guide. The SN8 will therefore likely sport three Raptors, SpaceX's powerful next-generation engine. (SpaceX's currently operational rockets, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, are powered by Merlin engines.)
SN 5 & 6 at Starship Production Complex in Texas pic.twitter.com/8BVRD5VdU7August 11, 2020
The final version of the 100-passenger, 165-foot-tall (50 m) Starship will feature six Raptors and be powerful enough to blast itself off the moon and Mars, Musk has said. But it will need help to get off Earth. Starship will launch from our planet atop a giant first-stage booster known as Super Heavy, which will have 31 Raptors of its own.
Starship and Super Heavy will both be fully and rapidly reusable. The duo will therefore be relatively cheap to fly, Musk has said — cheap enough to make crewed Mars missions and a variety of other exploration feats economically feasible, if all goes according to plan.
SpaceX is already starting to flesh out ancillary aspects of this bold vision. For example, the company recently put out a hiring call for offshore operations engineers to help develop floating spaceports for Starship vehicles.
The company is also looking to hire a resort development manager, who will be in charge of transforming Boca Chica Village into a suitable jumping-off point for Starship passengers.
"Boca Chica Village is our latest launch site dedicated to Starship, our next-generation launch vehicle. SpaceX is committed to developing this town into a 21st-century spaceport," a new SpaceX job notice reads. "We are looking for a talented Resort Development Manager to oversee the development of SpaceX's first resort from inception to completion."
That resort will likely be lavish, given that Starship trips will be quite expensive. (Musk has said that the cost of a seat aboard a Mars-bound Starship could eventually drop below $100,000.) Indeed, one of the preferred qualifications for the posted job is "experience working for high-end brand luxury development."
"Aiming to make it super fun!" Musk said in another Tuesday tweet, referring to the resort.
Though Starship is still in the early testing stages, SpaceX already has a mission on the books for the vehicle: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked Starship for a round-the-moon trip, with a target launch date of 2023.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.