SpaceX’s Starship is a new kind of rocket, in every sense

Oct 03, 2019

IT LOOKED for all the world like something that might have graced the cover of a 1950s comic book. On September 28th, on a warm Texas evening, Elon Musk, the boss of SpaceX, a rocketry firm, unveiled his company’s newest machine, Starship Mk1. It stands 50 metres tall and is made from shiny plates of stainless steel. Despite its name, it is not in fact an interstellar spacecraft. But it is a prototype of an interplanetary one. Mr Musk hopes, one day, to use its successors to ferry passengers to the Moon or to Mars—or perhaps even, according to one piece of SpaceX concept art, all the way to Saturn.

In the 17 years since its founding, SpaceX’s cheap, reusable machines have revolutionised the rocket business. The firm’s ultra-low prices have seen it grab a dominant share of the commercial satellite-launching market. Along with Boeing, an American aerospace giant, SpaceX is responsible for ferrying supplies to the International Space Station. It may soon fly astronauts there as well. But all of this commercial success is merely a necessary first step in Mr Musk’s bigger plan, which is to make humanity into a “multiplanetary species” by establishing colonies elsewhere in the solar system.

That is where the Starship comes in. The prototype on display in Texas is only one half of an enormous rocket stack designed with...

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