On Tuesday, photos began to emerge online of a new, Starship-like vehicle being built in an industrial park near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Later, SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed that the company will develop a Starship prototype in Florida to parallel work being done in South Texas.
“Both sites will make many Starships,” Musk shared on Twitter. “This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both.” This will not be a strict A/B test, a randomized experiment. Rather, Musk added, any insights gained by one team must be shared with the other, but the other team is not required to use them.
This is a rather new way to develop an orbital spaceship, especially one as large and as complex as Starship, which is designed to land and take off from other worlds such as the Moon and Mars. However, it is far from unprecedented in the tech world. For example, Google has long had a strategy of making two of everything, with multiple, competing products that go after the same user base.
Musk also provided an update on development of Raptor engines—which will power both the Starship vehicle and its companion rocket, Super Heavy. SpaceX, ultimately, will need dozens of the engines for the spaceship and rocket. But initially, the company will be testing its prototype Starship with one and three engines. SpaceX has now completed four of the engines, and it’s building the fifth one in Hawthorne, California. The company should have built more than 100 of the methane-fueled engines by next year, Musk added.
Meanwhile, after about five weeks of downtime, SpaceX appears ready to ramp up activity at its Boca Chica test site in South Texas. In early April, a series of tests culminated in a short, tethered hop of a Starship prototype. Now, the company may begin testing activity again later this month. The Brownsville Herald reports that a nearby highway, State Highway 4 from Oklahoma Avenue to Boca Chica Beach, will be closed on May 28 between 2pm and 10pm CT, or alternatively, on May 29 and May 30.
SpaceX is working toward an orbital launch of the Starship vehicle in 2020, but as with all large aerospace projects, that date is likely to slip later into the 2020s. A flight any time soon, given the absence of government funding and overall ambition of the project, would be notable.