Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has debuted a 50-metre Starship Mk1 prototype space vehicle, along with his plans for commercial interplanetary travel.
During a live stream of the event at the SpaceX’s Texas test site Musk said the 200-tonne Starship could fly up to a hundred passengers to deep-space destinations like the Moon, Mars and beyond.
He indicated it could even fly into orbit as soon as six months from now and carry its first passengers sometime next year.
Starship has a diameter of nine metres and should eventually be able to lift a payload of 150 tons, according to Musk.
The Starship will be launched into space by a massive rocket called the Super Heavy, which will also be nine metres in diameter, with a length of 68 metres.
“This is going to sound totally nuts, but I think we want to try to reach orbit in less than six months,” Musk said. “This thing [Starship] is going to take off, fly to 65,000 feet – about 20 kilometres and come back, then land in about one to two months.”
Fly to Saturn on the SpaceX Starship. Image: SpaceX/Twitter
Currently the Super Heavy has 37 Raptor engines, however Musk said he wasn’t sure they “will go that high”.
While he couldn’t give a definitive number on the total number of engines, Musk said the number of engines could vary depending on the mission, with the minimum number of engines for the booster could be about 24.
Although Musk has previously talked in detail of his plans for Starship, even announcing changing the material used to construct Starship from carbon fibre to steel before the debut of the prototype.
Musk wanted a big showcase to lean on the anniversary of the much smaller SpaceX spacecraft, the Falcon 1, eleven years ago on 28 September 2008.
“If that launch had not succeeded that would have been the end of SpaceX” Musk said.
“Instead, the company has now had 78 successful launches and is still aiming to do many more.”
His ambitions for interplanetary commercial space travel wasn’t just limited to Moon or Mars – he wanted it to extend to the planet Saturn one day.
Musk said the fundamental thing that is necessary to make space travel accessible to everyone, is a “rapidly reusable orbital rocket”.
“This is basically the holy grail of space and the fundamental thing that's best required, and it is a very hard thing to do; it's only barely possible with the physics of Earth,” he said. “We're really right on the cusp of what is physically possible. In order to create a rapidly reusable rocket you [must] have engines that have incredibly high specific impulse.”
While many applauded his ambitions, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, cautioned Twitter followers on SpaceX’s delays on other high-profile projects.
"I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow,” he wrote on Twitter. “In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the taxpayer. It's time to deliver."
NASA awarded both SpaceX and Boeing multimillion-dollar contracts to build spacecrafts to act as space taxis to take agency astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), by 2017.
To date Musk’s spacecraft, Crew Dragon visited the ISS in March on a landmark uncrewed test flight. A month later the capsule was destroyed during a test of its SuperDraco escape engines.