by Joel Hruska, ExtremeTech
Recently, Elon Musk unveiled the first Starship prototype SpaceX has built. The company has set an ambitious test schedule for itself, with the vehicle possibly making a limited flight as early as November. The so-called Starship is actually the second stage of a two-stage rocket. The first stage is called Super Heavy. Combined, the two are known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket.
The 50-meter tall Starship, with its 9-meter payload fairing, is a significant step forward for SpaceX. Musk’s Starship is the vehicle he intends to use for Mars colonization and for pushing the boundaries of manned space exploration. Initial testing will be done with three Raptor engines, but the Starship vehicle is designed to mount up to six Raptors and may be tested with all of them depending on how the program evolves. The Mark 1 prototype unveiled over the weekend is not the only launch vehicle SpaceX is building; the Mk 2 prototype is already under construction in Florida.
Musk’s plans for Starship, if fully realized, would represent nothing less than a wholesale shift in how the human race approaches space travel. Starship is theoretically designed to hold up to 100 people, though Musk himself acknowledged that the life support systems required to support that many individuals in a trip to Mars do not yet exist. The rocket is designed to be reusable, and SpaceX wants to recover its prototype launch vehicles so it can conduct further testing on them over time, in order to better learn how to push the flight envelope and to improve the various landing and flight systems.
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