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Elon Musk unveils finished Starship prototype: ‘The most inspiring thing I've ever seen'

By Benjamin Bullard
Elon Musk unveils the Starship prototype

Elon Musk didn’t skimp on the hyperbole as he unveiled the long-awaited, finally-completed SpaceX Starship prototype this weekend. But standing in front of a gleaming, floodlit stainless steel behemoth of a rocket under the Texas night sky, he really didn’t have to. The craft itself served up plenty of visual hyperbole without anyone having to speak a word. 

Musk revealed the finished Starship and Super Heavy launch vessel, a multi-use system intended to transport people and cargo “to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and anywhere else in the solar system,” according to SpaceX, in the process announcing a decidedly ambitious timeline for getting the rocket into orbit. Not only should the Mk1 Starship vessel shown at Saturday’s event be ready for suborbital test flight within the next couple of months, said Musk; the evolved Mk5 version hopefully should be ready for a test flight that puts it in Earth’s orbit in less than six months — a proposition he prefaced by admitting “this is going to sound totally nuts.”

The big reveal came only days after Musk shared more information about the Boca Chica, Texas assembly facility where SpaceX is putting it all together — a place he jokingly (and understandably) referred to as a Tatooine-like “droid junkyard” in an earlier tweeted photo that could have passed for a Star Wars location shot. He kept the enthusiasm going at Saturday’s announcement, tweeting out a new image of the finished Starship just ahead of the event that pretty much said it all:

As Musk explained in his presentation (which you can view in full in the clip above), the Starship/Super Heavy system is meant to maximize reusability, a feature Musk touted by offering a remarkably busy target of a Starship craft taking flight “three or four times a day” and the rocket booster remaining in service for as many as 20 takeoffs, according to Engadget. The vessel’s cost-effective, thermally-efficient, and weather-resistant stainless steel cladding — which bears more than a passing visual resemblance to a certain Naboo space bird from pre-Imperial Star Wars lore —has a lot to do with that, he explained. “Stainless steel is by far the best design decision we have made,” Musk said. “…Honestly, I’m in love with steel.”

Perhaps the most ambitious idea of the whole event was Musk’s new emphasis on all the places, beyond the Moon and Mars, that Starship perhaps one day could go. In a new infographic, SpaceX invited the world to begin thinking of Starship as a craft that can pretty much be adapted for trips to any planet where there’s surface to land — including, as the image (seen around the 37:10 point in the video above) clearly shows, even the outer planets like Saturn. “I think we should do our very best to become a multi-planet species,” Musk said. “And we should do it now.”