It’s being compared to the rocketships from the covers of science fiction pulp novels from the 40’s, and the ship from Rocketship X-M. It’s Elon Musk’s latest insane – but totally real – creation.
The craft is ambitiously titled “Starship”, and it’s a test rocket for suborbital testing purposes. Its thin, silvery skin stretches over a classic, familiar bullet-shaped hull that sits on a trio of delta shaped fins that double as landing struts. Three modestly sized booster engines are visible on its tail. Assembly of the 120-foot-tall craft has just been completed at SpaceX’s launch facility in Boca Boca, Texas.
It’s being described as a short hop test rocket, to be used mainly for suborbital takeoff and landing tests before they build the bigger, longer version that could conceivably carry people at some point further along in the project’s development. The next one will have a smoother skin, and smooth, curved hull plating on its nose. In another tweet, Musk says the body / tank is about 9m in diameter, or about 30 feet.
Starship is the latest incarnation of the spaceship formerly known as the Interplanetary Transport System, Mars Colonial Transporter, the Big Falcon Rocket or the BFR. (You can use your imagination as to what the folks at SpaceX actually think “BFR” stands for.)
Musk says the refuelable Starship, when paired with a huge rocket booster known as the Super Heavy, could be used for transcontinental point-to-point trips on Earth, satellite constellation deployment, voyages around the moon and to the lunar surface, and journeys to Mars and back.
The skin of the craft that this one is the prototype for will be made of a new type of stainless-steel alloy, because apparently the science fiction writers of half a century ago got it right: it’s the best way for the craft to shed heat from atmospheric friction. “Starship will look like liquid silver,” Musk wrote.
Musk plans to use residual liquid methane as a sort of cooling layer on the windward side of the rocket, which will give the whole thing a profoundly silver appearance. The Raptor rocket engines may have to be protected by discardable shielding.
The BFR, in turn, also looks like something right out of a 1960’s sci-fi model kit. It doesn’t look like it could be a real thing, but it’s actually all based on stuff SpaceX is either working on in earnest, or already built.
Musk said he plans to provide a detailed update on the Starship architecture in March or April. The first scaled-up, orbital-class prototype should be done around June, he said.
The aim is to have the Starship and the Super Heavy booster ready for passengers by the mid-2020s. They’ve picked up the pace of development, and building parts of it in full view of the public.
The assembly yard looks like your typical sci-fi space port, more like something from an episode of Space Patrol than real.
You’re building every geek kids’ dream out there, Elon. Now make it fly.