SpaceX Has Taken The Covers Off The Ship Set To Take People To Mars
Originally dubbed the BFR (or 'Big Falcon Rocket'), the Starship is essentially a 48m long spaceship attached to the top of a reusable 36m rocket booster. Theoretically, it's capable of carrying a 150 ton payload Mars and returning with 50 tons on board, but its first flight will be significantly less burdened. In fact, it'll be carrying just one man: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
At the moment, Starship is still very much in the prototype phase, being put together at a purpose-built launch facility in Texas. However Musk has revealed that he plans to put the first iteration of Starship into Earth's orbit in around 6 months. Providing an update on the ship's design and development over the weekend, he said "I think we should do our very best to become a multi-planet species and we should do it now." You can watch the full unveiling here.
As Musk revealed late last year in a series of tweets, SpaceX also intends to use Starship to colonise the moon and for return trips to and from our planet's loyal companion, however it's the versatility of Starship that makes it such an important vehicle for humanity's potential to explore our solar system.
Starship can be powered and fuelled in a number of ways. For longer-haul trips, it will begin its journey perched to the top of a reusable Falcon Super Heavy rocket — however as a reusable rocket in its own right, can also use its own 6 raptor engines to not only propel itself through space, but land and take off from Mars and the Moon under its own power. This makes it vital for humanity's ability to deliver both payloads and people onto other planetary bodies.
Starship will have a number of previously unseen features that, if successfully implemented, could revolutionise space travel. First of all, it's capable of refuelling in orbit when docked with an in-orbit tanker, which expands its range greatly. "This is one of the other critical pieces of the puzzle to establish a base on the moon or Mars," Musk noted.
Secondly, it has entirely new tech that could change the way the problem of re-entry is dealt with. It'll use cheaper stainless steal and ceramic heat shields to protect the spacecraft upon re-entry, and will also enter the atmosphere belly-first, more akin to a skydiver than a plane.
Expect to see Starship take off on its first test mission sometime in 2020.