SpaceX's Starship prototype nears launch
SpaceX has ramped up production of the stainless-steel, next-generation spacecraft prototypes. The latest one — called SN4 — passed a cryogenic pressure test this past weekend. Earlier prototypes like the SN3 earlier in April crumpled under the stress of the tests that require it to be pumped full of liquid nitrogen.
Founder and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk tweeted Sunday night about the latest progress. In a short video, the SN4 looked super frosty resting on the test stand at SpaceX's Texas-based Starship facility. The space transportation company and aerospace manufacturer based in Hawthorne, California, is carrying out development, and tests on sites spanning the entire country, as do its launch sites.
SN4 passed cryo proof! 😅 pic.twitter.com/EJakThZRGF— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020
Musk has world-historical plans for Starship — like a trip around the moon, and even a mission to Mars. But before either, the spacecraft needs to pass a series of tests more down-to-Earth.
The next challenge lies in installing a Raptor engine on the space vehicle, to send it on a short "hop." According to CNET, this could resemble another prototype's test hop that happened in 2019.
Starship bound for orbital flight via Raptor engine
At the moment, SpaceX's main goal is to launch Starship into orbital flight, from where it can enter interplanetary space. Additionally, SpaceX has already begun assembly of the next test Starship: SN5. Conventional delays are expected, but SpaceX seems resolute in maintaining momentum toward a rapid prototyping phase.
In the past, Musk has said roughly 1,000 Starships over a period of 20 years will be necessary to build a sustainable city on Mars. Considering the current phase of SpaceX's Starship development, and the company's recent contract with NASA to help realize the latter's Lunar Gateway project — SpaceX still has a long way to go before Starship reaches its full potential.