Saturday , October 23 2021

SpaceX is building a test spacecraft on Mars in Texas – and Elon Musk says it can launch until March



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  • Elon Musk said that SpaceX is building a "test hopper" vehicle in Texas that can be launched in March or April.

  • The vehicle is a squat version of a large scale Starship spacecraft – one that is being designed to reach Mars as part of the Big Falcon Rocket system.

  • Photos taken by local residents in Boca Chica, Texas (where SpaceX is building a launch site) show what appears to be the outline of a spacecraft joining.


Elon Musk logged on Twitter this weekend to deliver a real sled full of gifts to fans of his rocket company SpaceX in time for Christmas.

Musk was hoping for the 21st (and record) SpaceX rocket launch last year, when it revealed that the construction of a prototype of a Mars spacecraft, called Starship, is underway at the company's launch site in Texas.

In addition, the first round of experimental releases of what Musk called a "test hopper" may be complete in early spring.

Musk and Gwynne Shotwell, the president and COO of SpaceX, said the short, orbital launches of one of these spacecraft prototypes are a critical step in building the Big Falcon rocket, or BFR: a massive stage system designed to launch 100 people and 150 tons of cargo on the surface of Mars.

However, both SpaceX executives recently said that the short-term would not start until the end of 2019. So, perhaps a bit of ingenuity – and an influx of half a billion dollars – has helped accelerate that timeline.

The Starship was designed to be about 30 feet wide and 180 feet high, and sits atop a 60 foot tall rocket that Musk now calls Super Heavy.

"I'm going to do a full technical presentation of Starship after the test vehicle we're building in Texas to fly, so hopefully in March / April," he tweeted on Saturday.

"This test funnel is in total body diameter of 9m / 30 feet, but not at full height. Super Heavy will have height and full diameter "Musk added, indicating that SpaceX will not create a squat version of Super Heavy – and will jump right into launching a full-scale amplifier.

Musk added that the construction of test hopper segments was underway at SpaceX's new temporary rocket plant at Port of Los Angeles.

See More Information: Elon Musk is expanding his SpaceX empire – this is where the rocket company's most important sites are and what they do

In Boca Chica, Texas, where the company is developing a launch site for the BFR, locals have already photographed what looks like parts of the test funnel arriving on site and being assembled.

The image below is a mocking illustration of recent photos of what appear to be test pieces against Starship illustrations.

However, SpaceX did not immediately respond to the Business Insider questions about the Starship test train release schedule and other details (and the images are not confirmed to show the funnel).

News of the test funnel and release schedule were not the only thing Musk revealed on Saturday, however.

For the first landings of Mars in 2025?

Musk began releasing information about SpaceX's activities during a discussion of metallurgy, or metals and metal science, for BFR.

Materials are essential for the success or failure of space vehicles, as they must withstand enormous temperature fluctuations, pressure changes and extreme vibration. This is especially true for Starship, which must go into orbit around the Earth, take a month-long trip to Mars, land on the surface of the red planet and return home.

Musk presented what he said was a "final iteration" of the BFR in September. At the same time he announced that his company would launch Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023. The project described by Musk was rich in carbon fiber composite parts.

But by November Musk had repressed the claim, saying that radical design changes were emerging; he even renamed the two main parts of the BFR system. (Starship used to be called "Big Falcon Spaceship" and Super Heavy the "Big Falcon Booster"). In December, Teslarati reported that SpaceX was working with NASA to develop a new type of thermal shield for Starship.

And on Saturday, Musk revealed that SpaceX developed a special stainless steel alloy by its BFR system.

It is uncertain whether SpaceX will now fulfill its ambitious Mars release schedule because of these changes. But until October 31, Musk said he hopes to use the BFR system to launch the first humans into the Martian surface six years from now.

"We are still in search of 2024," Musk said of the mission during an interview with journalist Kara Swisher for the Recode Decode podcast.

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