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 short, orbitless "prototype" launches of such a spacecraft prototype are a critical step in building the Big Falcon rocket, or BFR: a colossal stage system designed to launch 100 people and 150 tons of cargo on the surface of Mars.
However, both SpaceX executives recently said that short jumps would not start until the end of 2019. So, maybe 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 will do a full technical presentation of Starship after the test vehicle we are building in Texas fly, so hopefully in March / April," he said. tweeted on Saturday.
"This test funnel is in total body diameter of 9m / 30 feet, but not at full height. Super Heavy will have full height and diameter", Musk added, indicating that SpaceX will not build a squat version of Super Heavy – and will jump right into launching a full-scale booster.
Musk added that the construction of test hopper segments was underway at SpaceX's new temporary rocket plant at Port of Los Angeles.
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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's questions about the Starship test hopper's release schedule and other details (and the images were not confirmed to show the funnel).
The news of the test funnel and the release schedule was 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 in the case of Starship, which must orbit 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 unclear whether SpaceX will now meet its ambitious Mars release schedule due to these changes. But until October 31, Musk said he hopes to use the BFR system to launch the first humans toward the Martian surface in six years.
"We're still aiming for 2024," Musk said of the mission during an interview with journalist Kara Swisher for the Recode Decode podcast.