Elon Musk Announces SpaceX Mars Mission Prototype

The rocket, dubbed Starship, blends old and new technologies

SpaceX rocket
SpaceX's new Starship rocket will begin testing soon, with a mission to Mars in mind.
By Tobias Carroll / September 29, 2019 11:56 am

In a remote corner of Texas, a vehicle that might be the next stage in interplanetary exploration is taking shape. SpaceX’s Elon Musk recently announced the prototype for a new rocket designed for a mission to Mars. Starship is a gleaming, retrofuturistic device that looks like the Platonic ideal of a rocket, albeit shinier. It’s not a bad way to celebrate the 11th anniversary of SpaceX’s founding.

At The New York Times, Kenneth Chang reported on the announcement and on SpaceX’s plans for the rocket. Musk plans to do a test launch of the rocket within the next two months, which will involve it flying 12 miles above the earth’s surface before touching down. 

Chang’s article points out that SpaceX’s first rocket, the Falcon, was relatively small: “68 feet high, 5.5 feet in diameter.” Starship is a bit bigger.

Starship, by comparison, is 164 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. It will be paired with a behemoth booster stage called the Super Heavy, and the full rocket will be 387 feet tall and able to lug more than 220,000 pounds to orbit. That would be about as powerful as the Saturn 5 rocket that took NASA astronauts to the moon 50 years ago, but able to fly again and again and again.

The design of Starship has been refined over the last 3 years, including a decision to use stainless steel for the exterior as opposed to carbon fiber. Musk mentioned that it might also be used for rapid transit around the globe, calling it, “ basically an I.C.B.M. that lands.” A memorable metaphor to be sure, though perhaps not the most reassuring one.

Will Starship be the first vehicle to take humanity to Mars en masse? That remains to be seen. But its blend of time-tested technologies and modern savvy offer space fans plenty to ponder. 

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