Billionaire Elon Musk has unveiled the latest updates regarding the development and plans of SpaceX’s colossal Starship space vehicle in a conference in its facility near the town of Boca Chica in Texas.
Starship, a shiny steel rocket ship designed to ferry a hundred humans to space, is the centerpiece of Musk’s conference where he detailed the speedy timeline of development as SpaceX inches forward its plans to take the average human to the moon and Mars.
Once finished, Starship will stand at 387 feet tall (118 meters) and will be the latest addition to SpaceX’s lineup of reusable launch vehicles.
“This is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen,” Musk said, standing in front of the Starship Mk1 prototype space vehicle.
As of the moment, SpaceX is near to the completion of the Starship prototypes called the Starship Mk-1 and Starship Mk-3 that currently being constructed at their Boca Chica and Florida facilities, respectively. Both of which is intended to demonstrate the performance of the spacecraft for actual space flights.
In front of a crowd of reporters and space enthusiasts, Musk showed off the development of the Starship vehicle through various animations representing actual performance.
“This is going to sound totally nuts, but we want to try and reach orbit in less than six months,” Musk said.
Notably, SpaceX is no stranger to encountering delays and technical snags. However, Musk believes if the current rate of production continues to proceed as quickly as it has been, the orbital vehicle could be an Mk4 or Mk5 prototype.
A prototype of the rocket named Starhopper has successfully test-launched its new rocket boosters called Raptor in the village twice since July, totaling to three “hops” where most recently flying as high as 500 feet (152 meters) and landing on an adjacent slab of concrete.
SpaceX is aiming for a test flight that gets 12 miles (20 kilometers) up in October, followed by an orbital attempt “shortly after that,” Musk said late last month.
“This is basically the holy grail of space,” Musk said, standing between a towering, newly assembled Starship rocket and Falcon 1 — the company’s first vehicle whose debut orbital mission was celebrated by SpaceX 11 years ago.
“The critical breakthrough that’s needed for us to become a space-faring civilization is to make space travel like air travel,” said Musk.
Musk named Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as Starship’s first private passenger in 2018.
To achieve the feat, Musk noted that they are adding new innovations based on what they have learned so far through various launches to and from space with its smaller rockets.
Musk explained the importance of a steel heat shield would be vital in ensuring the safety of the Starship vehicle as it is intended to be a reusable rocket. According to the SpaceX founder, the heat shield would only cost a fraction of a carbon fiber heat shield. “I’m in love with steel,” Musk said.
Starship will also use an in-space propellant transfer to enable the delivery of over 100t of useful mass to the surface of the Moon or Mars, SpaceX said.
“This is quite a new approach to controlling a rocket,” Musk said. “Much more akin to a skydiver than a plane.”
However, the CEO and founder noted that Boca Chica village, a few miles north of the Mexican border, is ground zero for SpaceX’s three-year experimental test program for Starship, whose rocket engine tests have particularly affected some residents in the area.
“I think the actual danger to the Boca Chica village is low, but it’s not tiny,” Musk said during a question and answer session. “So probably over time it’d be better to buy out the villages, and we’ve made an offer to that effect.”
Earlier this month, SpaceX sent a non-negotiable offer to buy out residential properties for three times the market value to ensure the residents’ safety as the space company intends to conduct more tests in the area as they plan to expedite development. However, there are some who have rejected the offer.