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SpaceX Starship prototype passes crucial test, moves closer to flight

Starship SN4 is now ready for a Raptor engine.

Elon Musk shared a view of SN4 Starship on the Texas test stand on April 23.
Elon Musk

We may see a new SpaceX Starship prototype get off the ground before too long. 

SpaceX has been churning out test versions of its stainless-steel, next-generation spacecraft. The latest iteration, dubbed SN4, passed a critical cryogenic pressure test over the weekend. Previous prototypes, including the SN3 earlier this month, have crumpled under the demanding task, which involves pumping the vehicle full of liquid nitrogen. 

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, tweeted about the progress on Sunday night. A short video showed SN4 looking very frosty on the test stand at SpaceX's Starship facility in Texas. The aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company is based in Hawthorne, California, but has development, testing and launch sites across the US.

Musk has big plans for Starship that include a trip around the moon and eventual journeys to Mars. But first the spacecraft must make it through a series of tests much closer to Earth. 

The next task will be to install a Raptor engine on the vehicle with an eye to sending it on a short "hop." This may look similar to a test hop of a very early prototype in 2019

SpaceX is working toward the bigger goal of a Starship orbital flight that will launch the craft into space.

In addition, SpaceX is already assembling the next test Starship, SN5. Delays and setbacks are common during spacecraft development, but SpaceX appears intent on keeping its momentum going through rapid prototyping.