SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk revealed a photo of an experimental rocket that can help him achieve his dream of one day landing on the surface of Mars.
The test hopper was unveiled on Twitter on Thursday, Jan. 10 — a few days after Musk first teased the vehicle. The photo was captured in a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering. pic.twitter.com/k1HkueoXaz — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 11, 2019
The test hopper, like its name suggests, is an experimental vehicle that is not meant to be launched into outer space and orbit the Earth. Instead, the vehicle will rocket on "hops" that will propel it to about 16,400-feet up in the air.
"This is for suborbital VTOL [vertical take-off and landing] tests," Musk added on a tweet. "Orbital version is taller, has thicker skins (won't wrinkle) & a smoothly curving nose section."
A 'Tintin' Rocket
If the rocket looks like it came straight out of The Adventures of Tintin's Destination Moon, that is because it did. The design was inspired by the popular comic from 1953.
Back in September, Musk revealed the new design of the Big Falcon Rocket, now simply called Starship, and confessed he wanted to emulate the design of the comic book rocket.
True enough, the test hopper looks like a real-life replica of the comic book rocket, except with a silver sheen. Standing at 120-feet tall, the vehicle has a tubular shape, a pointy top, and three fins that serve as landing pads.
SpaceX says that it hopes to test fire the rocket next month. Its performance will inform the private spaceflight company moving forward about the development of the orbit-ready Starship.
Starship To Mars
The Starship design that Musk unveiled last year was set to be about 30-feet wide and 180-feet tall. It will sit on top of a 219-foot rocket booster dubbed as the Super Heavy.
Similar to the hopper, the spaceship will have a silver finish not just for style, but also because the exterior will be too hot for paint. Musk added that the stainless mirror-like finish of the Starship will look like liquid silver as it reenters the atmosphere.
SpaceX is set to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and artists he will select onboard the Starship on a trip around the moon in 2023. The company hopes to launch the first crew to Mars by mid-2020s.