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Starhopper flying through the sky above Texas. Photo: SpaceX

Last week, SpaceX launched the final test of Starhopper, a prototype of its Starship spacecraft that is designed to eventually take 100 people at a time to deep space destinations like the Moon or Mars.

Context: SpaceX is building on the reusability of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets with Starship, but the new interplanetary system will have some key differences.

  • The Starship and Super Heavy rockets will be powered by SpaceX's Raptor engines, while the company's current rockets make use of Merlin engines.
  • Super Heavy and Starship are each expected to fly up to 1,000 times, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
  • Raptor engines use methane as fuel, and it might be possible to extract methane from Mars or other bodies for use as propellant one day.

Details: The successful Starhopper test paves the way for SpaceX's plans to test 2 more prototypes currently being built in Texas and Florida.

  • The two vehicles, called Mk1 and Mk2, represent some healthy competition between SpaceX teams, and it's only the start, according to Musk.
  • "Both sites will make many Starships," Musk said on Twitter in May. "This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both."
  • SpaceX has said that the first commercial Starship flights could begin as early as 2021. The company currently has 1 confirmed Starship mission announced for 2023, when a group of artists are expected to take a trip around the Moon.

What to watch: Musk said that the company is planning on a 20-kilometer (12-mile) flight of Mk1 in October, with an orbital test to follow. Musk is expected to update the public on the progress of Starship development on Sept. 28.

Go deeper: Mars' spacecraft go on summer vacation

Go deeper

Updated 4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

President Joe Biden vows to be "a president for all Americans"

Moments after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden sought to sooth a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, while warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

Why it matters: From the same steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier, the new president paid deference to the endurance of American political institutions.

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.