SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk provided an update on Saturday evening about the company’s next-generation rocket, built to carry people deep into space, laying out a rapid schedule for the program’s development.
Standing in front of the first assembled iteration of the Starship rocket, as it’s called, Musk talked through a review of SpaceX’s history thus far, what its built and what’s next.
“This is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Musk said.
And, near the end of the event, Musk tipped how close he thinks SpaceX is to flying its first people on Starship.
“I think we could potentially see people fly next year, if we get to orbit in about six months,” Musk said.
The first SpaceX rocket Starship under construction in Texas.
The massive rocket represents the company’s ambition to build a vehicle that can launch and land multiple times, all while being capable of carrying as many as 100 people to the moon and Mars. A prototype of Starship, called Starhopper, recently flew a short low-altitude flight. SpaceX has been testing an early prototype of the rocket at its Texas facility and, on Friday, finished assembling the first iteration of Starship.
Next up: This first Starship will fly to 65,000 feet altitude, which Musk said is set to happen in about a month or two.
With construction of a second Starship already underway in Florida, Musk said SpaceX will then begin assembling another Starship in Texas. So after the flight to 65,000 feet, Musk surmised SpaceX’s next test flight may be to space.
“Our next flight after that might just be a flight all the way to orbit with the booster and a ship,” Musk said. “We’re building Starships as fast as we can … it’s going to be really nutty to see a bunch of these things.”
Musk the event off, following a severe weather delay, by thanking supporters, suppliers, locals and more. He gave a recap of SpaceX’s history, emphasizing its goal of making spaceflight more akin to air travel.
“The critical breakthrough needed to make us a space-faring civilization is to make space travel like air travel,” Musk said.
Musk showed off updated renderings and animations of Starship and the Super Heavy booster that launches it. Both Starship and Super Heavy will have landing legs, to be able to return and land upright, similarly to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
SpaceX is using a type of stainless steel to build Starship, a decision that Musk praised.
“The best design decision on Starship is the use of 301 stainless steel, because of its strength during extreme temperatures,” Musk said.
He explained that Starship, when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, will only need extra heat shielding on one side of the rocket, “because the steel can take a much higher temperature.” Additionally, stainless steel comes with significant cost savings. Originally SpaceX was going to build the rocket with carbon fiber, which Musk said would have cost $130,000 per ton. Stainless steel, by comparison, costs $2,500 per ton and Musk emphasized “was about 2% the cost.”
Musk says SpaceX “thinks it would very exciting to have a base on the Moon,” even if just for research.
“We can go to other places in the solar system, like Saturn, but the critical thing that we need to focus on I think is the fastest path to a self-sustaining city on Mars,” Musk said.
Musk concluded by emphasizing why he finds it important to note that humans are the only known fully conscious species.
“It appears that consciousness is a very rare and precious thing and we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness,” Musk said.
“The window has been opened” to become a multi-planetary civilization,” Musk added.