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Musk tweets peek at Starship hopper

Starship test hopper

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk this week tweeted an image of the Starship test hopper, adding that they hope to begin test flights by March.

“This test hopper is at full body diameter of 9m / 30 ft, just not full height. Super Heavy will be full height & diameter,” Musk tweeted, indicating that the company will go directly to building a full-scale version of the rocket booster, rather than a truncated test version.

It seems to me that Musk continues to embarrass all other rocket companies, both private and governmental, with his effective use of current technology to innovate and produce new designs. While everyone else seems locked into building the same old things, his company is using what it knows to try to build something smarter and more efficient.

SpaceX’s track record suggests that it will do exactly what it is trying to do, even if it likely takes longer than they predict. Others should take heed, or they will all get left behind.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Kevin R.

    That picture is old Astounding magazine cover cool.

  • Edward_2

    Elon Musk seems to be our Howard Hughes – Rich, Nuts, Innovative and he Gets It Done.

  • Richard M

    It helps a lot that SpaceX is closely held, and Musk has no public shareholders to answer to.

    It would sure help if we had a few more SpaceX’s out there. For now, we have to make do with Blue Origin. Still, it’s enormous progress from where we were just a decade ago.

  • ” . . . they will all get left behind.”

    Too late. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

  • Diane Wilson

    Blue Origin seems to be falling behind as well. Yes, there’s a factory for New Glenn, but so far no engineering test units other than BE-4 on its test stand.

    It’s hard to see New Shephard as anything but a distraction at this point, unless they have serious plans to launch it often enough, with paying customers, to make some profit. But at the moment, New Shephard seems to be starved or resources, or else saddled with exceptionally timid management. I don’t know how much useful experience will carry over from New Shephard to New Glenn, especially on the operational side.

    BO’s motto may be “step by step, ferociously” but I’m not seeing any ferociousness.

  • Jason

    Edward_2, I like the comparison to Howard Hughes! We definitely need more people like him, the rich should take more risks in a capitalistic environment.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Elon Musk seems to be our Howard Hughes”

    I’s say, particularly with the cult that surrounds him, that Musk is our Howard Roark or John Galt. In non-fictional terms, our Henry Kaiser, who accomplished a lot more than Hughes ever did

  • wayne

    Have to agree with Col Beausabre on this one— Henry Kaiser.

    Edward_2/ Jason–
    The Aviator ending scene:
    “the way of the future.”

  • Kirk

    This is the least traditionally flightworthy flight hardware I’ve ever seen!

    Initial construction of the concrete base and the lower cylinder (made of welded steel plate — apparently mill finish stainless steel) was done by Caldwell Tanks, a water tower construction company. SpaceX watchers have been observing the construction since late November, and joking among themselves about its approximate 9 m diameter matching that of the BFR, and how funny it would be if they built out the water tower to look like a spaceship!

    But the joke is on them. While the “water tower” might never actually reach space, it does appear to be turning into a SpaceShip prototype which will do low altitude hop tests.

    The upper section is built of stainless steel sheet metal stretched over a frame, and it is a fair bit taller that what is shown in the photo from Musk’s tweet. <a href=";topic=47022.0;attach=1535988;image"Here is further stacking of the upper section, which happened earlier today. (The boom of the crane reflecting off the wrinkled surface of the stainless steel sheets give the illusion of it being torn.)

    They are also assembling a much larger crane on site for moving the full structure.

    This is the craziest thing I’ve seen in quite a while. Go SpaceX!

  • Dick Eagleson

    Looks as though it’ll be balls to the wall 24/7 at Boca Chica until further notice. Major excitements are approaching at the speed of an express train. The coming year bids fair to be epic as Elon Musk grabs the entire U.S. space establishment by the collar and tries to snap it out of its long-term somnolence with a few vigorous slaps.

  • Kirk

    Here is drone video of the Spaceship construction shot by the local TV station:

    15:25 long, but it does show the site from several different angles.

  • pzatchok

    I bet China will have one bigger a year after this one flies.

  • Dick Eagleson


    I bet China doesn’t. I have no idea why you would think that anyway. It’s been more than 3 years since SpaceX first landed a booster intact. It’s been even longer since the first boosters capable of being landed flew. Yet China’s own reusable booster is years away and will be fairly small. All big Chinese rockets, extant or planned, are still throw-aways. So long as the current regime rules China, that country will remain the most consequential enemy the U.S. has. But the Chinese aren’t 10 feet tall any more than the Russkies were back in the heyday of the Cold War.

  • Kirk

    Here are this morning’s pics of the Boca Chica hopper construction. (Link is to a post in the NasaSpaceFlight thread tracking and discussing the work.)

    The lower, cylindrical, stainless steel plate section has been raised off its concrete base and moved so that it is now resting on its own legs. The upper, conical, “tin foil hat”, stainless steel sheet metal section looks like it might be destined to grow even taller, as one new cylindrical sheet metal section has been placed on the concrete base and another, taller one is visible under the tent.

  • pzatchok

    Dick Eagleson

    This rocket is still 5 years away from flight at best. Manned flight might be years longer(but probably not).
    This gives China plenty of time to just skip the flight ready Falcon 9 and Falcon heavy stage and jump straight to this. if they want. And I bet they want too for political reasons at least. They must keep proving to their own people that their way is the best way. Revolution is never far from the leaders minds.

    We are in a cold war with China. its different than the cold war with the Soviet Union but its their just the same. This is more economic and ideological.
    Their population mass gives them the economic advantage, and their intellectual property thefts keep them technologically even with us.

  • Kirk

    Engine bells! Here is the latest NSF post with photos from Boca Chica, and there are 3 engine nozzles protruding from the lower, “water tower” portion of the Starship hopper. Don’t know if they are part of actual, complete engines, or just nozzles of engine mock-ups for fit testing.

  • Kirk

    pzatchok> This rocket is still 5 years away from flight at best.

    While I wouldn’t bet that it will be orbital by 2020 (even with Musk giving that a “Probability at 60% & rising rapidly due to new architecture”), I expect they will beat your 5 years. They need to to have half of their 12,000 satellite Starlink constellation in place within less than 6 years, and they are using that requirement as leverage to fund rapid development of this vehicle.

  • Kirk

    Here is an NSF post with a pictorial history of the BFH hopper construction.

  • Kirk

    And here is a composite photo (from NSF) showing a stacked hopper (in actuality, the base and nosecone are currently resting separately on the ground while the center section is being constructed on the concrete supporting cylinder), pasted onto the launch site construction area.

    Musk tweeted that this hopper is full diameter though shorter than the actual BFS Starship, but didn’t give any numbers. Estimates for the completed hopper range from 130 ft to 150 ft tall, while the latest figures for the BFS Starship is 180 ft.

    And remember, this is just an upper stage hopper / prototype. The lower stage BFR (aka BFB or BRB or Super Heavy) isn’t expected to see prototype construction start until the latter half of 2019.

  • Kirk

    … and then unstacked:

    Looks like that was just a fit test. There is some indication that there may still be some work left capping off lower section propellant tanks.

  • Kirk

    … and then restacked:

    It’s possible that the hopper’s tanks are complete, and the heavy steel dome being constructed next to the hopper is for an actual water tower, which would be funny because when Caldwell Tanks started construction on what turned out to be the hopper, everyone naturally assumed it was a water tower.

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