SpaceX tests heat shields that will stop its Starship from burning up

"White-hot parts reached orbital entry temp of around 1,650 Kelvin," said Elon Musk.

After successfully getting its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) and back, SpaceX has shifted focus to another huge project: the interplanetary Starship. In a tweet, Elon Musk showed off tests on the Starship's heat shield, the part that will keep it from burning up when it returns to Earth. The blow-torch like devices brought the temperatures up to 1,650 degrees Kelvin (2,500 degrees F) at the most extreme, white-hot regions -- enough to stand the heat of orbital re-entry, Musk said.

Musk tweeted that the tiles are hexagonal-shaped because that provides "no straight path for hot gas to accelerate through the gaps." The tiles will be installed on the windward side, towards the direction of re-entry, "with no shielded need on the leeward side."

The hottest sections will have a "transpiration cooling" system, with microscope pores on the exterior that allow water or methane to ooze out and cool the exterior. That would minimize damage on the heat shields and allow the Starship to return to service shortly after a flight merely by refilling the heatshield reservoir. "Transpiration cooling will be added wherever we see erosion of the shield," tweeted Musk. "Starship needs to be ready to fly again immediately after landing. Zero refurbishment."

Starship development is proceeding apace in other areas, as well. As spotted by "aspiring space kid" Austin Barnard, SpaceX recently fitted its "Starhopper" Starship prototype with a Raptor engine for the first time, and plans to do test hops soon, possibly within a week. The tests will take place at SpaceX's Texas test site near Boca Chica Beach, but the craft won't go very far. "First (really short) hops with one engine [only]," said Musk. "Suborbital flights with three."