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Elon Musk shows off the shiny SpaceX Starship

SpaceX is building and testing Starship prototypes as Elon Musk looks ahead to Earth orbit, the moon and then, perhaps someday, Mars.

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Amanda Kooser
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SpaceX Starship shines in Texas

SpaceX's plans to leave Earth's orbit start with Starship, a next-gen spaceship that could one day deploy satellites, carry artists around the moon and even touch down on Mars. 

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted this look at a stainless-steel Starship prototype in Texas on Jan. 10, 2019. This version wasn't intended for orbital duty, but was used as a "hopper" to test takeoffs and landings. The most recent prototypes look a bit different.

"Starship will look like liquid silver," Musk tweeted in late 2018. SpaceX is working on an orbital prototype in Texas and putting a series of test vehicles through short flights. Musk has said he wants to put a Starship into orbit as soon as July 2021.

Originally published Jan. 28, 2019, and updated with new Starship milestones. 

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Starship in the air

SpaceX has been busy building a series of Starship prototypes in Texas to test the engines, the spacecraft design and the launch, flight and landing systems before it tries to send a ship into orbit. The short test flights have had their ups and down ... and some of those downs have resulted in explosive landings. There have also been some thrilling views of the prototypes taking to the air.

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Starship SN10 touchdown

SpaceX has built a numbered series of Starship prototypes, which haven't all survived their test flights. Starship SN10 (Serial Number 10) took flight in early March 2021, soared to a height of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and then made a proper upright landing. 

The two Starships that came before -- SN9 and SN8 -- exploded when they hit the ground during landing. SN10 survived for a period of minutes after touchdown before also exploding in spectacular fashion. The test flight was still considered a success.

SpaceX is now working on its SN11 prototype.

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Starship SN10 gets an engine swap

Elon Musk shared this ethereal view of Starship SN10 in late February 2021. "Out on launch pad, engine swap underway," Musk tweeted.

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Starship SN10 flight

The SN10 Starship prototype had a good-looking test flight in early March 2021. This view shows it in action before its landing and eventual explosion.

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Seeing double Starships

SN10 and its predecessor SN9 appeared together in Boca Chica, Texas, in early February. Both prototypes have since exploded during testing.

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SN9 in the air

The Starship SN9 prototype took flight in early February 2021. It looked pretty good up in the air, but a belly-flop landing brought the test to an explosive end. This is what it looked like before the fall.

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A scenic spacecraft

This Starship prototype SN9 didn't survive its test flight. This is a gorgeous view of the test vehicle before its launch in Texas. Elon Musk and SpaceX have floated the idea of naming the location of its development facility "Starbase, Texas."

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SN8 goes boom

SpaceX's Starship SN8 prototype had an eventful landing in late 2020. The flight portion went well, but it didn't stick the landing.

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SpaceX BFR concept

This dramatic rendering shows Starship, which was known as BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) at the time this image was released in September 2018, blasting away from a cloudy Earth. SpaceX says the ship and rocket are designed to be fully reusable and will be able to service Earth orbit as well as the moon and Mars.

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11 of 41 Elon Musk/SpaceX

Starship as a render

Elon Musk's photo of the actual Starship "hopper" prototype looked very close to this rendered version he shared in a tweet on Jan. 5, 2019. The rendering shows a smoother skin, which highlights the retro sci-fi look of the design.

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Starship assembled

SpaceX assembled the shiny pieces of its planned Starship orbital prototype in late 2019. This wasn't a launch-ready version, but it showed what the spacecraft might look like.

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BFR launching

This artist's illustration shows a SpaceX Starship launch underway. Elon Musk announced the new Starship name in November 2018. Technically, Starship is the upper stage that will carry cargo or people, while the rocket booster used to launch it is called Super Heavy. 

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Raptor engines

SpaceX's Starship will rely on some powerful Raptor engines to get it to orbit and beyond. The company shared this view of three Raptors in September 2019. 

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Starship prototype in pieces

Prior to unveiling the assembled Starship hopper prototype, Elon Musk teased the spaceship with this image shared on Twitter on Dec. 24, 2018. The vehicles in the photo help to give an idea of the scale of the massive ship. SpaceX later removed the nose cone and tested the hopper without it.

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16 of 41 Maria Pointer/bocachicaMaria

Starship suffers wind damage

SpaceX watcher Maria Pointer captured this image of the bottom section of the Starship hopper prototype after a violent Texas windstorm in January 2019 knocked the nose cone off onto the ground. SpaceX repaired the prototype, which was designed for short jumps to test takeoff and landing systems.

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SpaceX Raptor engine

The Starship hopper, nicknamed "Starhopper," used a single Raptor engine for its first test jump in late July 2019. Elon Musk shared this low-res image of a Raptor back in February 2019 prior to a test-firing. Starship will eventually use multiple Raptor engines.

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Raptor fires up

Elon Musk tweeted out this fiery image of a SpaceX Raptor engine looking spitting mad. This Raptor test happened in February 2019 prior to the first Starhopper short jump in late July. The prototype "hopper" Starship used just one Raptor engine. The first orbital versions will use three, and the final Starship design calls for even more of these powerful engines.

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19 of 41 Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Starhopper prepares to jump

This snub-nosed vehicle is the Starship "hopper" prototype known as Starhopper. SpaceX used it to test takeoffs and landings. It was designed to make short "hops" into the air. It successfully completed its first jump in late July 2019, reaching about 65 feet (20 meters) and moving over slightly from where it started.

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Starhopper takes off

SpaceX successfully launched this Starhopper prototype twice from its facility in Texas. This view is from the second (and much higher) hop, which took place on Aug. 27, 2019. The hopper was used to test the Raptor engine, as well as takeoff and landing systems. SpaceX is working towards an orbital prototype for a more ambitious Starship tests. 

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Putting Starship together

SpaceX is aiming to make an orbital Starship prototype in Texas. The company's first "Starhopper" prototype was meant to test basic launch, landing and rocket systems. The future prototype should eventually be able to reach Earth orbit, powered by several Raptor engines. 

Musk tweeted this view of Starship construction in September 2019.

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Starship Boca Chica

This photo from SpaceX founder Elon Musk shows a Starship prototype under construction in Boca Chica, Texas, in September 2019. 

"Adding the rear moving fins," Musk tweeted. This prototype was designed to reach much greater heights than the "hopper" Starship that took the initial test jumps in Texas. SpaceX has been building multiple prototypes.

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Behind the scenes in Texas

Elon Musk gave space fans a peek behind the scenes at the build-out for a SpaceX Starship prototype in Texas in August 2019. This round object is a bulkhead that was being rotated prior to installation inside the shiny Starship. It's used to create interior compartments.

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Starship with clouds

This lovely view shows a Starship prototype under construction in Boca Chica, Texas. "Droid Junkyard, Tatooine," Musk tweeted in September 2019, cracking a Star Wars joke. 

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starshipwindbreak

Elon Musk shared this view of an architectural windbreak built at the SpaceX Texas site to protect a prototype of the Starship in August 2019. This version of Starship, which can be seen behind the windbreak, is meant to get SpaceX closer to orbit. The structure is designed to protect it from the kinds of fierce winds that knocked the cone off the original Starhopper prototype.

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SpaceX Starship work

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted this behind-the-scenes peek at the Starship production facility in Texas in January 2020. Musk described it as "improved accommodations."

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Musk and Maezawa

Elon Musk gave Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa a lift prior to a Sept. 17, 2018 press conference announcing the #dearMoon project to send a group of artists around our lunar neighbor in 2023. If all goes as planned, Starship will ferry Maezawa and a selection of six to eight artists on the ambitious private lunar mission. Maezawa purchased all of the available seats for the flight.

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Starship concerto

SpaceX released some imaginative illustrations of what a trip on Starship might look like. This artwork shows a concert in zero gravity. It ties in with SpaceX's plans to carry a group of artists around the moon with funding from Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa.

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SpaceX moon illustration

SpaceX released this dramatic illustration of its Starship/BFR spacecraft posing with the moon in anticipation of one day sending a private tourism mission around the Earth's only natural satellite. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already signed on to buy all the seats on SpaceX's planned moon trip in 2023.

These early concept images show a BFR that looks much more like a NASA space shuttle than the current shiny, stainless-steel Starship design.

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SpaceX lunar base

SpaceX is looking pretty far into the future when it comes to Starship. This artistic image shows what a SpaceX lunar base might look like. That's Earth glowing in the distance.

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Starship in perspective

Putting humans in the picture gives us a better idea of just how big a Starship orbital prototype could be. SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared this behind-the-scenes look at workers in Texas with a Starship prototype on a transporter in September 2019.

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Cryogenic testing

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted this icy view of a Starship test tank in January 2020. The stress test involved liquid nitrogen. SpaceX pressurized the tank until it gave way to see how it would handle orbital flight conditions. The test was a success.

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Starship Mars base

This futuristic rendering shows a collection of Starships hanging out on the surface of Mars. Elon Musk and SpaceX envision astronauts initially living out of the spaceships while constructing a more permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.

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Starship docking in orbit

SpaceX sees Starship as a multi-purpose vehicle that's not just for long-distance journeys around the moon or to Mars. It's also intended for orbital missions, such as docking at the space station or delivering satellites into space. This illustration shows the spaceship docked in orbit.

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Starship at Night

Elon Musk shared this photo of a Starship orbital prototype at night in September 2019. "Three Raptors already installed," he tweeted, a reference to the three rocket engines. The first hop tests used just a single engine.

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Starship tank and nosecone

Elon Musk shared this view of the Starship production process at SpaceX's Texas facility in January 2020. It shows the SN1 liquid oxygen header tank and the nose cone under construction. SpaceX has built multiple test versions of Starship.

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Starship tanks

This image Musk tweeted in late June 2020 gives a sense of the scale of the Starship prototypes. "Two Starship tanks in the midbay," he wrote. 

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SN5 takes off

The Starship SN5 prototype took off on a big hop adventure in early August 2020 when it successfully completed a 500-foot (150 meter) test flight at SpaceX's facility in Texas. The company is still working on sending a Starship prototype into orbit.

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SN5's Raptor

This inside view of the SN5 prototype shows the Raptor engine blazing away as it "hopped" in early August 2020. 

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Starship SN5 hop

SpaceX shared this wide view of the Starship SN5 prototype going for a big 500-foot (150 meter) "hop" test flight in Texas in early August 2020. The prototype flew without a nose cone or fins. Some people suggested it looked like a flying thermos or grain silo.

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41 of 41 Elon Musk/SpaceX

SN5 in flight

Elon Musk tweeted this scenic view of Starship SN5 prototype in mid-air in August 2020. This was Starship's biggest hop yet. This Raptor-powered test flight was one one crucial step toward getting a Starship into orbit.

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