Elon Musk is gearing up to go to Mars. On Monday, the SpaceX CEO updated his Twitter avatar with a concept rendering of the Starship on the launchpad. The under-development vessel is expected to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2020s, with a unique engine design that could enable a far-flung network of planet-hopping stations.
The render has sparked excitement in the SpaceX fan community, as the Starship’s design is still shrouded in mystery to an extent. Musk first unveiled his Mars-bound ship in September 2017 under the name “BFR,” at which point it used conventional materials to transport up to 100 people at once to Mars and beyond using liquid oxygen and methane, which, unlike the rocket propellant used in the Falcon 9, can be found and harvested on other planets.
Musk renamed the vessel the Starship in November 2018 while also teasing a new stainless steel design with fins inspired by Tintin. SpaceX’s website still uses the non-steel renderings to outline its Mars mission, though.
The render chosen by Musk was produced by Gravitation Innovation, which describes itself as “a team of fanatical space enthusiasts.” The collective produces a number of concept renderings of Musk’s upcoming rocket, like the one used in his avatar.
Gravitation Innovation launched a Kickstarter in July 2018 to fund the “Plume,” a USB-powered rocket model for a desk that measures 11 inches wide and 30 inches tall in its Falcon 9 incarnation. The model has a built-in speaker and lights to simulate a rocket launch. The project met its $58,698 funding goal one month after launch.
The team also produced renderings of the Starship from other angles.
This concept shows the vessel coming in to land.
The stainless steel is intended for use as part of a transpiration cooling system, where liquids pass through a porous surface to keep temperatures down. The rocket will essentially “sweat” to reduce heat damage. SpaceX has also been testing some hexagonal heat shields at temperatures of 1,650 Kelvin, or 2,510 degrees Fahrenheit. Transpiration cooling will work where the shield is eroded so the ship can harvest fuel and fly without repairs.
SpaceX is still developing the Starship, with plans to conduct short test jumps using a miniature “hopper” variation at the Boca Chica facility in Texas. The smaller model is set to start tests any day now, but while it’s the same width as the final model, it’s smaller in height and lacks features like windows. Musk claims an orbital prototype could arrive as early as next year.
From there, the sky’s the limit. SpaceX plans to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, along with a team of six to eight artists, on a trip around the moon in 2023. Once that mission is complete, the firm plans to move onto its Mars missions, expected to consist of two unmanned Starships sending supplies before sending four more Starships, including two manned ships, at the next possible moment.
The Starship could help build a city on Mars in just 30 years’ time.