On Sept. 28., SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company’s newest venture: Starship. Standing in front of a 50-meter, 200-ton prototype of the vehicle, Musk described it as, “the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever seen.”
Since 2002, SpaceX has worked toward making space travel easier and more accessible. Its first big success came in 2008 when the rocket Falcon 1 reached orbit for the first time. Then in 2016, the small Falcon 9 rocket was launched and relanded, followed by a relaunch in 2017.
“The critical breakthrough that’s needed for us to become a space-faring civilization is to make space travel like air travel. With air travel, when you fly a plane, you fly it many times,” said Musk.
The Starship, although much larger than previous rockets sent into space by the company, is a vehicle with, “a rapidly reusable orbital rocket,” that could hypothetically carry people into space, land on Earth, and be launched once again.
“This thing is going to take off, fly to about 65,000 feet—that’s about 20 kilometers—and come back and land. In about one to two months,” said Musk. “It is really gonna be pretty epic to see that thing take off and come back.”
Musk said the company plans to have the next prototypes of the Starship built within six months, an innovation rate that is unprecedented. To do this, they will reach a production target of building one new engine per day by next year.
Musk’s ultimate goal is to create, “a self-sustaining city on Mars.”
“Becoming a space-faring civilization, being out there among the stars, is one of the things that makes me glad to be alive,” he said.
While some have responded ecstatically to Musk’s announcement, such as Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who has already booked a trip as a private passenger with SpaceX to go to the moon, others have responded less enthusiastically.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted prior to the Starship announcement that, “NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer.”
Since the ending of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, NASA has partnered with the companies SpaceX and Boeing to send astronauts to the International Space Station. However, the effort, known as Commercial Crew, is years behind schedule while Spacex and Boeing have made leaps and bounds.
Bridenstine said that although he found Musk’s presentation exciting and inspiring, he is critical of, “contractors that overpromise and underdeliver,” and that these NASA partners should be just as committed to programs that American taxpayers have invested in as to their own projects.
The reason why SpaceX was able to proceed at such a fast pace with Starship is because it is funded entirely by private investors, with no government money.
Commercial Crew is a NASA program that SpaceX bid a contract for, and with the government program money comes a ton of oversight and red tape along with a dose of stifling politics (for the first 5 years of its existence, Congress underfunded Commercial Crew by 50% to protect their SLS pork-barrel project.). That is why Commercial Crew suffered so much delays.