The Starship, SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket, is about to take a step closer to lift-off.
On Friday, CEO Elon Musk revealed the company will soon provide an update on the stainless steel rocket, “probably” on June 20. Evidence suggests that the firm is getting ready to a reveal a new “orbital” prototype, and it could offer a more in-depth look at the vehicle following its reported Tintin-inspired redesign in September 2018.
The rocket, currently being tested at the firm’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, is expected to play a pivotal role in SpaceX’s most ambitious missions. These include the plan to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023, SpaceX’s plan to send the first humans to the surface of Mars, and its long term goal of establishing a city on the planet by 2050.
SpaceX Orbital Starship: The Ship Takes Shape
Musk has dropped several clues that this will be an orbital prototype demonstration. He claimed in December 2018 that the Super Heavy booster on the rear would take shape around spring 2019. In January, Musk declared that the orbital prototype would be ready around June.
Images from the test facility also show the ship coming together:
SpaceX Orbital Starship: The Story So Far
SpaceX has made rapid progress toward its goal of developing a ship capable of taking on both more ambitious missions but also more standard payload lifts for commercial clients.
The company first unveiled the ship in September 2017 under the name “BFR.” The first version had a diameter of 30 feet, height of 348 feet, and a weight of 9.7 million pounds. Its Raptor engine uses liquid oxygen and methane instead of standard propellant, so astronauts could establish propellant depots and return home from Mars — or even venture out further and establish a planet-hopping network.
Each Raptor engine provides 38,000 pounds of thrust, using 31 in total to provide liftoff thrust of 10.8 million pounds. That’s around double the capacity of the Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful rocket in operation. A further seven engines will reside on the ship itself.
In January 2019, Musk explained that the ship would now use transpiration cooling to keep the ship at a suitable temperature. The new, stainless steel design would essentially enable a liquid to pass through a porous surface and keep the exterior cool. The ship is expected to enter the Martian atmosphere at 16,777 mph. With a melting point of 2,786 Fahrenheit, it makes for a more suitable material than something like aluminum that can only manage 1,221 Fahrenheit.
Musk released new concept images in April 2019 of how these new ships may look on a Mars colony:
He also posted a rendering of the ship on the moon:
While Bezos is more concerned with enabling Earth people to leave the planet, Musk has a plan for a planet-hopping network that could enable humans to reach into the galaxy even further. SpaceX aims to have a settlement on Mars by 2050, with return tickets priced at around $200,000. Eventually, Musk wants his firm to help send one million people to Mars
From there, the goal is to build multiple cities, gradually expanding. While the first few inhabitants will be focused on establishing life support systems, future visitors may be involved in broader activities like researching the planet’s origins.
It all starts with the Starship, a ship that can carry 100 people which has been compared to the Mayflower.