A prototype of SpaceX’s next generation has successfully flown to an altitude of 150m (500ft). Without a crew test vehicle rose on a plume of exhaust before deploying its landing legs and touching down softly. The prototype is the latest in a lineup of test vehicles SpaceX has constructed over the past year as the company races to develop a massive spaceship and rocket system called Starship, which CEO Elon Musk bills as the vehicle that will carry the first humans to Mars. The stainless-steel test vehicle, called SN5, has been compared variously to a grain silo and water tank. The final Starship vehicle will feature six Raptors, standing 50m (165ft) tall. It could carry up to 100 people on a single flight. But to overcome Earth’s gravity, it will need to be launched by a massive rocket, which will be equipped with 31 Raptor engines. Musk is particularly keen on the Red Planet, stressing repeatedly over the years that he founded SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help humanity colonize Mars. If all goes well with the development of Starship and Super Heavy, the spaceflight system could enable our species to get a million-person city up and running on the Red Planet in the next 50 to 100 years, the billionaire entrepreneur has said.
A lot of development still needs to get done, of course. SpaceX will iterate repeatedly before arriving at the final Starship design, which will then need to be tested.
If all goes well, we could see Starship and Super Heavy flying together soon, on exciting and important missions.