Elon Musk has his eyes set on Mars, and now the public has a chance to set their eyes on the first prototype of his new rocket system, named Starship. The vehicle, once completed, will be capable of delivering people to the Moon and beyond.
Starship looks like it could have been pulled from the scenes of Buck Rogers, or possibly Bugs Bunny. The vehicle, originally named BFR (supposedly for Big Falcon Rocket, although Musk hinted at a different name), is bright silver, and sits on over-sized fins, adding to its sci-fi look.
“Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering,” Musk tweeted on January 10.
The test flight version of Starship is dubbed Hopper, and will be used to test the VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) capabilities of the vehicle. A version of the spacecraft capable of orbital flight should be ready by June, Musk reported on Twitter. That vehicle will have a thicker skin than Hopper, and be taller, with a smoother nose, than the test version. Although designed to bring travelers to the Moon or Mars, Starship will also be capable of shuttling passengers from one city to another on Earth in an hour or less.
SpaceX currently supplies the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo and equipment, utilizing their Dragon cargo capsule, paired with a Falcon 9 rocket. Musk and his team are developing a new capsule for future missions, capable of delivering human travelers to the orbiting outpost.
The finished rocket will consist of two parts, standing a total of 118 meters (387 feet) tall when assembled for launch. The first stage of the rocket, the Falcon Heavy, will propel the vehicle off the ground, and into space, using powerful engines. The second stage, Starship, will then carry the crew to their final destination. In all, Musk expects the rocket to cost five billion dollars to design and construct.
A Japanese billionaire is the first person planning to ride Starship on an extraterrestrial journey, on a trip around the Moon, currently scheduled for 2023. Eventually, the goal for SpaceX is to build a crew vehicle capable of carrying up to 100 people at a time into space.
The Falcon 9 rocket was used to launch a red Tesla, owned by Musk, into space in February 2018.
Hopper will take its first test flights in March or April of 2019, rising several kilometers in the air before coming down for controlled landings. In June, the orbital version of Starship is expected to be ready. Once mated to Musk’s Super Heavy booster, the vehicle will be capable of launching to the Moon or Mars.