SpaceX is set to significantly ramp up its Starship development program in the new year, in more ways than one. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk noted on Twitter on Thursday that the company will seek to make use of both of its two launch pads at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas with prototype rockets set up on each, and that it will begin flight testing its Super Heavy booster (starting with low-altitude “hops”) as quickly as “a few months” from now.
Recently, SpaceX set up its SN9 prototype of Starship (the ninth in the current series) at Pad B at its Texas testing facility, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. SN9 will be next to undergo active testing, after SpaceX successfully flew its predecessor SN8 to an altitude of around 40,000 feet, and then executed a crucial belly flop maneuver that will be used to help control the powered landing of the production version. SN8 was destroyed when it touched down harder than expected, but SpaceX still achieved all its testing goals with the flight — and more.
SN9 will now undergo ground tests before hopefully doing its own flight test later on. That’ll provide the team with even more valuable data to carry on to further tests — with the ultimate goal of eventually achieving orbit with a Starship prototype vehicle. Musk’s tweet that two prototypes will be stood up next to each other on Pad A and Pad B at the Boca Chica site could indicate the pace of these test flights might speed up, to match the fast clip at which SpaceX is constructing new rocket iterations.
Meanwhile, news that Super Heavy could be undergoing testing soon is also reason to get excited about 2021 for SpaceX and Starship. Super Heavy is the booster that SpaceX will eventually use to fly Starship for orbital launches, and to eventually help propel it to deep space — for destinations including Mars. Super Heavy will be around 240 feet tall, and will include 28 Raptor engines to provide it with the lift capacity needed to break Earth’s gravity when it’s stacked with a Starship loaded down with cargo.