Yesterday, Elon Musk officially unveiled a new SpaceX rocket, dubbed Starship. Nearly 120 metres tall and constructed of stainless steel, it is expected to make its maiden voyage into space in the coming months. If things go according to plan, it will eventually be used to reach Mars or the moon, transporting cargo and crew, and return to Earth for a safe landing. Here's what you need to know about Musk's space aspirations.
SpaceX has now launched the most powerful spacecraft since the Apollo era – the Falcon Heavy rocket – setting the bar for future space launches. The most important thing about this reusable spacecraft is that it can carry a payload equivalent to sending five double-decker London buses into space – which will be invaluable for future manned space exploration or in sending bigger satellites into orbit. But what about the environmental impact?
What is SpaceX?
While Tesla is probably Elon Musk's better-known company, SpaceX is equally impressive. Founded in 2002, the private space travel and manufacturing company has already achieved a number of breakthroughs, including the first privately-owned liquid-fueled rocket to launch into space in 2008 and the first relaunch of a used rocket with its SpaceX Dragon C106 in 2017.
The company now has its eyes set on launching a fully reusable rocket, Starship, capable of transporting a human crew and cargo, into space to reach planets like Mars and the moon.
"We need things to be excited to be alive, that make us glad to wake up in the morning and be fired up about the future," Musk said at the Starship unveiling at SpaceX's Texas facility. "Space exploration is one of these things."
What's different about the Starship?
SpaceX's new rocket, Starship, is unique in that it's built for multiple launches. Standing at 387 feet tall, or 118 metres, the spacecraft is constructed of stainless steel. This differs compared to NASA-built crafts, which are usually made of titanium or aluminum, strong but light materials. But Musk argued despite the material being heavier, the heat-resistance properties of stainless steel make it perfect.
"Stainless steel is by far the best design decision we have made," he said at the unveiling. It doesn't turn brittle in extremely cold temperatures, for example, and can withstand temperatures of 1500 degrees Celcius, according to Ars Technica. It's also considerably cheaper as a material.
"Steel is easy to weld, and weather resistant," Musk said. "The evidence being that we welded this outdoors, without a factory. Honestly, I'm in love with steel."
Musk said he believes it will ready to launch within a few months, in another step edging toward his ultimate goal; human occupation of Mars.
Why does Elon Musk want to go to Mars?
Elon Musk is no stranger to letting everyone know he doesn't believe Earth is the future for human civilisation.
"One path is to stay on Earth forever, and there will be some extinction event," Musk wrote in a journal article for New Space. "The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go."
"The critical breakthrough that's needed for us to become a space-bearing civilisation is to make space travel like air travel," Musk said at the Starship's unveiling.
But he acknowledged that technology will be expensive so it won't be accessible to most of the world. "You cannot create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $US10 billion (nearly $1.5 billion) per person," Musk wrote. He plans to bring that ticket cost down to $US200,000 (nearly $300,000) and eventually, $US100,000 (nearly $150,000).
To do that, he's got four strategies. Inventing resuable rocket ships, like Starship, refueling in orbit, producing a propellant on Mars and finally, choosing the right fuel, which he asserts in Methane, which is easy to produce on the planet.
Let me watch the Starship unveiling
For now, however, all we can do is wait and watch to see if the Starship has a successful launch. Once that happens, more testing will follow until eventually, and just maybe, we'll see the first commercial space flights occur for the ridiculously rich.
Watch the hour-and-a-half unveiling below for yourself.
The space agencies of Australia and the UK have announced a partnership, which they're calling "a world-first Space Bridge". At the core of this agreement is a new kind of rocket engine which could enable flights between Sydney and London in "as little as four hours". Here's what you need to know.