Elon Musk unveiled the latest design of SpaceX’s Starship Mars-colonization architecture on September 28th during a presentation at the company’s South Texas facilities, near the village of Boca Chica.
The billionaire entrepreneur has given such an update every September since 2016. Much has changed since then, including the architecture’s name, which shifted from the Interplanetary Transport System to the BFR to the current moniker, Starship and Super Heavy.
Musk said in 2017 that the BFR will stand 348 feet (106 meters) tall. But in the tweaked design he revealed last year, the system had grown to a towering 387 feet (118 m).
The basic design concept has held firm, however: a two-stage system that consists of a passenger-carrying vehicle (Starship in the latest iteration) stacked atop a huge rocket (Super Heavy). Both elements will be fully and rapidly reusable, Musk has said.
Starship and Super Heavy will both be powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine. The 100-passenger ship, which is stainless steel, will have six Raptors, whereas the first-stage rocket will consist of 35 of the engines.
Musk had a visual aid during the presentation: the newly assembled Starship Mk1, a three-engine prototype that SpaceX plans to fly for the first time in October. The Mk1 stands 165 feet (50 m) tall, and will first aim for an altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers) and eventually conduct orbital test flights, Musk has said.
SpaceX is also building a another similar vehicle, Starship Mk2, at the company’s Florida facilities. The competition between the two construction efforts should end up improving the final Starship design, Musk has said.
The final Starship could blast off very soon, if the testing campaign continues to go well.
The Starship-Super Heavy duo may start launching communication satellites as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said.
And Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a crewed flight around the moon aboard the system, with a target launch date of 2023.