SPACEX is building a spacecraft that billionaire CEO Elon Musk says will one day take people to the Moon and Mars.
It’s called Starship, and the California rocket firm’s latest prototype, SN20, is due for launch soon as part of the craft’s first orbital test flight.
1) When will SpaceX’s Starship SN20 launch?
SpaceX has said that SN20 will be its first Starship prototype to reach space. Previous versions have performed short “hops” of up to 10 km (6 miles).
Lifting off atop SpaceX’s huge deep-space rocket booster, Super Heavy, the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) spacecraft is expected to fly in early 2022.
The precise timing of the liftoff is unclear, as SpaceX still isn’t cleared to fly the craft from its Starbase launch site in south Texas.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still conducting an environmental assessment of Starbase.
A draft assessment has been filed and the FAA has collected public comments on the document, but the final report has not yet been released.
In the meantime, SpaceX is conducting tests of SN20 on the ground to ensure it’s ready for liftoff.
On November 12, the vehicle engaged in a static test – a brief firing up of its six Raptor engines while the vehicle remained stationary on the ground.
“Good static fire with all six engines!” Musk tweeted shortly after the test.
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2) Why did SpaceX go from SN15 to SN20?
So far, SpaceX has named its Starship prototypes in numerical order. The SN stands for Starship serial Number.
SN8, for instance, was the eighth prototype, while SN9 was the ninth and so on.
However, the company apparently broke with this trend for the naming of SN20. The last spacecraft was dubbed SN15, meaning numbers 16 to 19 were skipped.
The jump is because SN20 is what Musk calls Starship’s “next major technology revolution”.
Unlike previous prototypes, it’s capable of orbital flight and is loaded with six raptor engines, instead of three.
The upgrade required a reset of the naming to scheme to differentiate this line of Starships from the last.
Expect the next big advancement to start with SN30, and the one after that to begin at SN40, and so on.
3) When will Starship go to the Moon and Mars?
The spacecraft hasn’t even reached orbit yet, meaning its first flight to the Moon or Mars – if it ever gets there – is a long way off.
Starship will play a key role in Nasa’s Artemis programme, which aims to establish a long-term presence on the Moon.
In April 2021, the space agency awarded Nasa a $2.9billion contract to develop Starship into a lander capable of touching down on the lunar surface.
Nasa aims to land astronauts on the Moon later this decade.
SpaceX has also announced plans to fly the vehicle around the Moon in 2023 on a flight boarded by the Japanese online retail billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
Plans for the spacecraft’s first trip to Mars will depend on the success of these flights. Musk has said he can get Starship to the red planet in the 2030s.
In other news, Apple has announced that it will let customers fix their own iPhones for the first time starting next year.
The UK is fighting an epidemic of hack attacks targeting consumers and businesses, according to officials.
NASA has slammed Russia after a missile it fired into one of its own satellites forced the space station to perform an emergency swerve.
And, a 75-year-old Brit has told of his anger after scammers on WhatsApp fooled him into sending them hundreds of pounds.
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