The SpaceX Starship, a new launch and orbit system that could carry humans into deep space, could reach orbit as early as 2020, CEO Elon Musk claimed on Thursday. The tech entrepreneur, whose company is currently developing the Starship to support a manned mission to Mars and beyond, ranked the chances of orbit that year as “60 percent and rising rapidly.”
The claim is a strong show of support for the ship formerly known as the “BFR.” SpaceX has undergone several design iterations of the ship, but plans to start “hop tests” of a few hundred kilometers at its Boca Chica facility in Texas as early as next year. The firm completed delivery of the final major ground tank system in October, and this week Musk unveiled an image of a stainless steel prototype of the rocket. Reaching orbit in 2020 would bode well for Musk’s ambitious timetable for the rocket, with the firm aiming to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon with up to eight artists as early as 2023.
Musk unveiled the rocket at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017, with a bold plan to send two unmanned ships to Mars by 2022 and the first manned ships by 2024. The rocket is powered by liquid oxygen and methane that makes it ideal for such a mission, as humans can harvest resources from the Martian atmosphere to make the return journey. Musk has described a future network of refueling stations, enabling humanity to become a multi-planetary species, enabled by the rocket’s fully reusable design. The original design had a liftoff thrust of 5,400 tons, far more than the Falcon Heavy’s 2,500 tons, the latter of which is the world’s most powerful rocket in operation.
Since the conference, Musk has been teasing a big redesign of the rocket. In November, he described the new version as “delightfully counter-intuitive.” Musk explained at the time that the firm has shifted its plans away from upgrading its current Falcon 9 rocket to make it more reusable, instead focusing its efforts on the Starship and its grand plans for the future.
As for further details, Musk claimed that he will provide a more in-depth explanation of the Starship’s redesign as early as March 2019.