SpaceX Starts Construction Of Mars Rocket Prototype

Space transportation company SpaceX has carried out its first mission for the US military with the launch of a $500 million (£394m) navigation satellite.

The company also revealed it has begun constructing a prototype of its planned Mars rocket at its base in Texas.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifter carrying the Lockheed Martin satellite launched on Sunday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, at shortly before 9 a.m. local time.

The lift-off followed four planned launches over the previous week that had all been cancelled due to weather or technical issues.

A September 2018 illustration of the launch of a Big Falcon Rocket Mars vehicle. Image credit: SpaceX

GPS III

The launch is a success for SpaceX, which has battled to force the US military to open up such launches to competition.

Military satellites have in the past generally been placed into orbit by military contractors Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.

SpaceX sued the US Air Force in 2014 over the arrangement and the following year the Air Force agreed to increase competition.  SpaceX won the $83m contract for the current satellite in 2016.

The GPS III satellite is one of 32 being produced by Lockheed as part of a $12.6bn Air Force contract, with the next set to launch in mid-2019.

An illustration of a Big Falcon Rocket launch. Image credit: SpaceX

‘Super Heavy’

Separately, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said over the weekend that the company has begun constructing a prototype of its “Starship” Mars rocket, which is planned to ride atop a lifter called “Super Heavy”.

Starship was previously called “Big Falcon Spaceship”, while Super Heavy was known as “Big Falcon Booster”, the rename having occurred in November along with design changes.

Musk posted an image of a Starship component on Twitter, appearing to confirm reports on social media of such parts arriving in SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas launch site.

He said the prototype was a test vehicle that was set for a test launch in early 2019.

An illustration of a Big Falcon Rocket launch. Image credit: SpaceX

“I will do a full technical presentation of Starship after the test vehicle we’re building in Texas flies, so hopefully March/April,” Musk said over the weekend on Twitter.

He said the test Starship was the vehicle’s planned full diameter of 30 feet, but would be less than Starship’s full planned height, while the prototype of Super Heavy would be built at full size.

The segments are being manufactured in Port of Los Angeles, he said.

Before the vehicle’s most recent November redesign, Musk said in late October that SpaceX was still aiming to meet its planned schedule of launching a crew to Mars in 2024.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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