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Elon Musk pushes SpaceX staff to focus on Starship

Published Jun 8th, 2020 4:36PM EDT
spacex starship

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  • Elon Musk wants SpaceX’s Starship to be the top priority moving forward, according to an email obtained by CNBC.
  • Starship is SpaceX’s next-gen rocket platform designed to carry humans to other worlds, including Mars.
  • Musk says that future versions of Starship will be capable of interstellar travel.

SpaceX has had an incredibly busy year. In the midst of a global health crisis, SpaceX has managed to make huge strides in its work for NASA and continue a regular schedule of launches to deploy its Starlink communications satellites. Now that the Crew Dragon has made it to the International Space Station in its first crewed flight, SpaceX boss Elon Musk wants the company to shift more attention to its biggest project yet: Starship.

Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation spacecraft that the company hopes will one day head to new worlds like Mars. Eventually, Musk says future versions of Starship will be capable of traveling to other planetary systems. Of course, before that happens, it needs to get off the ground.

SpaceX doesn’t have any kind of concrete timeframes for when any versions of its Starship will begin making trips into space. At the moment, it’s working with prototypes of the spacecraft and testing engines and other equipment that will eventually find their way into the vehicle.

Just a couple weeks ago, shortly before Crew Dragon made a successful crewed launch to the ISS for the first time ever, a Starship prototype called SN4 detonated on the test pad during a static fire test. During a static fire test, the spacecraft’s engines are fired up and SpaceX’s engineers and scientists gather data on its performance and try to spot any kinks. It’s unclear exactly what went wrong, but the prototype exploded with enough force that there seemed to be nothing left of it.

Musk hasn’t spoken about the incident in depth, but offered a brief comment to Reuters. “Unfortunately what we thought was going to be a minor test of a quick disconnect ended up being a big problem,” Musk said. That doesn’t tell us much about what happened, but it’s not the first time a Starship prototype has met an untimely end.

Back in April, the Starship prototype SN3 crumpled into a heap of twisted metal during pressure testing. It was a total loss, but SpaceX quickly rebounded with SN4. Eventually, one of these prototypes will move on to actual flight tests, but that could still be many months away.

The first Starship candidate to pass all of SpaceX’s tests and trials will attempt a brief flight called a “hop.” During this test, the spacecraft won’t travel high enough to make it into space, but it will provide SpaceX with a wealth of data with which to further develop Starship. With Musk urging SpaceX staff to focus on Starship, perhaps we’ll see it take flight sooner rather than later.