Eleven years ago, SpaceX's first version of Starship rocket Falcon-1 debuted its orbital mission. This year, the founder of SpaceX announces an ambitious project.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed their newly assembled Starship, as well as their plans to launch a Mars mission in mere months, another hefty step in their quest to launch humans to the moon and Mars.
A crowd of space enthusiasts and reporters gathered at SpaceX's rocket development site on Saturday in the remote village of Boca Chica, Texas, for Musk's demonstration. Animations of the Starship landing on the moon and Mars were shown and it was predicted that its first orbital flight could come in the next six months. Following this, missions to space with humans aboard could commence from the next year.
"This is basically the holy grail of space," Musk claimed as he stood between the newly assembled Starship and Falcon 1. "The critical breakthrough that's needed for us to become a space-faring civilization is to make space travel like air travel."
Starship is a shiny steel rocket ship designed to ferry dozens of humans to the moon and Mars. It is the top half of Musk's colossal interplanetary rocket system that stands 387 feet tall (118 meters) as the latest addition to SpaceX's lineup of reusable launch vehicles. Musk named Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as Starship's first private passenger in 2018.
The venue of this revelation has trouble brewing in the horizon. The Boca Chica village sits a few miles north of the Mexican border and is ground zero for SpaceX's three-year experimental test program for Starship, whose rocket engine tests have rattled the nerves of residents living in a remote hamlet of roughly two dozen homes a mile away.
"I think the actual danger to the Boca Chica village is low but it's not tiny," Musk conceded 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."
Some residents have rejected SpaceX's non-negotiable offer to buy out their homes for three times the market value.
Musk has conducted the launch of a three-legged prototype of the rocket named Starhopper. It has been launched twice since July, most recently flying as high as 500 feet (152 meters) and landing on an adjacent slab of concrete to trial Musk's next-generation rocket engine dubbed Raptor.
Aside from his lofty dreams about Mars missions, Musk's plan of missions to the moon also aligns with NASA's goal of sending humans there by 2024 under its Artemis program, an accelerated deep-space initiative that aims to work with a handful of US space companies. They aspire to build a long-term presence on the lunar surface before eventually colonizing Mars.
As SpaceX has become quite a force to be reckoned with in the space frontier and so NASA has tapped them to figure out how to land vehicles on the lunar surface and help develop a system for refuelling rockets — like Starship — in space. It would be an "important technology to aid sustained exploration efforts on the Moon and Mars," NASA said in a release on Friday.
"I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow. In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Friday night statement, before Musk's demonstration. "NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It's time to deliver."