Musk updates Starship progress SN6 prototype could fly as early as today

As SpaceX prepares for a 500-foot hop of its SN6 Starship prototype at Boca Chica possibly as early as today, the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk gave an update on progress of the Starship development program during a “Humans to Mars” virtual summit on Aug. 31.

Musk highlighted what he described as “good progress” in ramping up production of Starship prototypes at Boca Chica, though there’s still plenty to figure out.

“ Making a prototype of something is, I think, relatively easy,” he said. “But building the production system so that you can build ultimately hundreds or thousands of Starships, that’s the hard part. But we’ve been making good progress on the production system as people can see from the aerial photos of Boca Chica. … A year ago, there was almost nothing there, and now we’ve got quite a lot of production capability. We’re rapidly making more and more ships, and we’ll be starting production of the booster soon.”

The Super Heavy booster stage he refers to would feature somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 engines necessary to push the Starship spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit. Super Heavy would be the most powerful rocket ever built. Musk said production of the first Super Heavy would begin this week at Boca Chica. SpaceX has added a “high bay” vehicle assembly building inside the Starship production complex for the purpose.

The test hop of SN6 is expected to be similar to the 500-foot flight and landing of the SN5 prototype that took place Aug. 4. A successful engine static-fire test for the SN6 on Aug. 23 signaled that a hop was imminent, though an attempted launch on Aug. 30 was scrubbed. If the SN6 flies it will be the third hop at Boca Chica and the second of a full-size Starship prototype. The first test 500-foot hop featured the stubby Starhopper, the original Starship test bed, on Aug. 27 of last year.

Starship is the configuration Musk intends to use to transport humans to Earth destinations, the Moon and Mars. He said SpaceX could probably attempt it first orbital launch next year, though hundreds of missions will have to be flown before the company ever puts a crew aboard Starship.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. has ordered S.H. 4 near SpaceX closed Sept. 4 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for rocket-testing activities, with Sept. 5-6 serving as backup dates. He has also ordered the highway to be closed on Sept. 6 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with Sept. 7-8 reserved as backup dates. Access to Boca Chica beach remains closed due to the county’s continuing emergency order in response to the pandemic. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued Temporary Flight Restrictions up to 26,000 feet for the Boca Chica area Sept. 3-6.