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SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk announced the private aerospace company is beginning the construction of Starship's Super Heavy booster prototype later "this week" — a major step toward a mission to Mars.
"That's gonna be pretty cool," said Musk mid-keynote interview during the virtual Humans To Mars summit. He also unveiled plans to "hop" the new booster in the near future.
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SpaceX's Super Heavy booster assembly starts 'this week'
The Super Heavy will be the most powerful rocket booster ever constructed, by an astounding factor of two (or more), reports Teslarati. Easily taller than an entire two-stage Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, the Super Heavy measures at roughly 230 ft (70 m) tall, and will weigh roughly 7.7 million lbs (3,500 metric tons) when filled with liquid oxygen and methane propellant.
Musk said SpaceX's target thrust capacity for the booster is roughly 16.5 lbf (7,500 tons) — substantially more than twice that of the Saturn V (of the Apollo missions) and the Soviet N-1 rockets, in addition to thrice the thrust of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.
From an engineering viewpoint, while several times more powerful and bigger, the Super Heavy will technically be simpler than Falcon Heavy — since it uses a single core. Built from the same simple rings used to assemble Starship prototypes, the Super Heavy will likely also come at a lower cost to construct than Falcon Heavy.
From 'BFR' to Super Heavy, Elon Musk aims for Mars
As of writing, SpaceX's latest prototype has only flown roughly 500 ft (150 m) into the blue sky, but Starship is SpaceX's vessel for putting people on the moon, Mars, and beyond.
However, to make the journey to these deep-space locations, SpaceX needs to pair Starship with a first-stage booster capable of lifting unprecedented payloads. And while the Super Heavy may have fewer engines than initially planned, it could still have 28 Raptor engines (instead of 31).
"That's still a lot of engines. [W]e'll be cranking up the thrust on those engines," said Musk, reports CNET. He also said it may be possible for Raptor to lift 200 times its own weight, eventually.
SpaceX's Starship assembly is 'uncharted territory'
The Starship prototype will likely fly higher than a hop "next year," encouraging the public to manage expectations. "The first ones might not work," he said. "This is uncharted territory. Nobody's ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket ... and then having something twice the size of a Saturn V that's also fully reusable ... that's really something else, that's profound. That's the gateway to the galaxy or at least the solar system."
If it seems like SpaceX and Elon Musk are beginning to take up more space in the news cycle, it's not for lack of effort. As the frontline of private space ventures, Musk and his company are literally reinventing space travel to take the human species farther into deep space than we've ever gone before.