Having recently rebranded its BFR to the more benignly named Starship, SpaceX has now added the finishing touches to the first prototype of this super heavy-lift vehicle. The rocket will be used for sub-orbital testing sometime this year, marking important baby steps in its plans for the Moon, Mars and maybe beyond.
When the Falcon Heavy rocket SpaceX fired into orbit last year with a Tesla in tow it was a huge moment for space exploration. But even though it’s the most powerful rocket in operation today, it is still not big or powerful enough for manned missions to Mars.
The Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), on the other hand, is designed to carry dozens of people into deep space and back, along with all the cargo that might be needed for such a mission’s success. Now known as Starship, the company has been busy assembling the various components of the first prototype, which can now be seen in full standing upright at its Texas launch site.
The shimmering, stainless steel Starship looks equal parts retro and futuristic, and will remain shiny and silver because the company says the skin will get too hot for paint. This prototype is intended only for sub-orbital hopper tests, similar to the Falcon 9, where the company will practice launching and landing it within the confines Earth’s atmosphere.
SpaceX expects to make a few changes for the orbital version. It will have thicker skin to prevent wrinkles and a smoother, curvier nose section. That orbital version is expected to be complete around June, CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet on Thursday. The sub-orbital prototype, meanwhile, is expected to take flight for the first time in the coming months.
“I will do a full technical presentation of Starship after the test vehicle we’re building in Texas flies, so hopefully March/April,” Musk tweeted last month.