Meet the Mars Starship

How this prototype space vehicle could one day take humans to the Red Planet

Image credit: SpaceX

The US company SpaceX has made no secret of its ultimate goal to send humans to Mars. They hope to do this with a large new spacecraft called Starship, capable of carrying 100 people or so per flight, launching on top of a huge rocket called the Super Heavy, in total measuring over 100 metres tall. But to prove that this idea works, SpaceX has been busy testing a prototype vehicle called Starhopper.

Starhopper is a scaled-down version of the reusable Starship and Super Heavy combination – about one-third of the size. It’s equipped with three Raptor engines, methane-fuelled rocket engines that will be used for launches to Mars. And in early April 2019 Starhopper performed a very small test ‘hop’ at a test site in Texas, where it fired up and lifted a few feet off the ground while remaining tethered to Earth.

There had been some problems prior to the hop, notably strong winds that caused the nose cone on top of the rocket to become damaged and unusable. But the hop itself was a success and proved that the design for the vehicle would indeed work. SpaceX is expected to soon conduct further tests of Starhopper, where it will not be tethered to the ground so it can fly much higher.

SpaceX hopes to begin flights of Starship in the 2020s, and it is already at work on the full-scale final vehicle. One of its first flights is set to be a trip around the Moon with space tourists on board in 2023, and after that, who knows? Perhaps Elon Musk’s company really will be able to send people to Mars.

SpaceX vehicles

Starship has gone through multiple variants and is significantly bigger than  the Falcon 9

Image credit: Future PLC

Hopping to space

Starhopper is designed to demonstrate how humans could one day travel to Mars and beyond

Image credit: Future PLC

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 126, written by Jonny O’Callaghan


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