What just happened? On Saturday at the Boca Chica Beach, Texas, Elon Musk showed off the first shiny steel prototype of SpaceX's deep-space bound 'Starship' rocket, just a few moments after the company's employees had finished assembling it. Musk gave a presentation on "the most powerful rocket in history" and discussed Starship's stainless steel design as it stood next to the Falcon 1, the company's first rocket that made it to orbit eleven years ago.
Earlier this month, SpaceX confirmed plans to begin testing its orbital-class 'Starship' rocket whose first prototype was completed over the weekend. A 200-ton, 165 ft-tall stainless steel rocket that will use three of SpaceX's next-gen Raptor engines to test out its flight capabilities through a series of propulsive landing tests.
"This thing is going to take off, fly to 65,000 feet — about 20 kilometers — and come back and land in about one to two months," said Musk as he stood beside 'Starship' and the Falcon 1 rocket, the latter of which became the first private liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit on September 28, 2008.
Starship will be the most powerful rocket in history, capable of carrying humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond pic.twitter.com/LloN8AQdei— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 29, 2019
Musk is also planning to launch Starship into orbit in the next six months. "This is going to sound totally nuts, but I think we want to try to reach orbit in less than six months," he said, adding that the milestone depended on the continual exponential rate in the improvement of design and manufacturing.
He also commented on the use of stainless steel as being "by far the best design decision" of the company. Acknowledging that the material was heavier than carbon composite or aluminum-based alternatives, he cited steel's extreme resistance to temperature changes as a big plus that would ultimately result in a modest heat shield of glass-like thermal tiles for the Starship rocket.
Another plus for SpaceX is the cost of using steel. Since making the rockets will be out of the company's own pocket, Musk said that they'll be able to build many shiny Starships thanks to the cheaper price of steel that sells for $2,500/ton as opposed to spending $130,000/ton on buying carbon fiber.