Elon Musk shows off next-generation "Starship" prototype

William Harwood

This article, Elon Musk shows off next-generation "Starship" prototype, originally appeared on CBSNews.com

SpaceX founder Elon Musk showed off a towering prototype of his Saturday, telling a throng of reporters, cheering supporters and company workers the gleaming rocketships could begin piloted orbital test flights within the next year.

"With any development into uncharted territory, its difficult to predict these things with precision," the tech billionaire said in a question-and-answer session. "But I do think things are going to move very fast."

The futuristic-looking Starship, intended to carry passengers and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon and eventually Mars, is the upper stage of a fully reusable launch system featuring a "Super Heavy" booster powered by up to 37 methane-burning Raptor engines.

But Musk said Crew Dragon is the No. 1 priority for SpaceX, adding that Starship development amounted to only about 5 percent of the company's workforce and resources.

In the meantime, crews in Florida and Texas are engaged in an informal competition to outperform each other building and launching Starship prototypes.

"The priority is to build at least two Starships at each site, at Boca and at the Cape, and then to start building the booster," Musk said. "We'll complete Mark 1 through 4 before doing Mark 1 of the booster. And then we'll do Mark 1 and Mark 2 of the boosters at the Cape and at Boca."

One challenge will be building enough Raptor engines. It currently takes eight to 10 days to build a single engine, he said, but SpaceX hopes to improve that to one per day next year. Between now and the first orbital flight, Musk said about 100 Raptors will need to be built.

In Florida, the Super Heavy and Starship will be launched from complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX has a 20-year lease on the former Apollo and shuttle pad and plans major modifications to accommodate the new rocket system.

In Texas, the company plans to launch from new facilities at the Boca Chica site. Along with launch and landing pads, the company likely will build a plant to generate the needed liquid oxygen propellant.

While local and state officials have welcomed SpaceX to Texas, residents of Boca Chica face an uncertain future given their proximity to rockets blasting off almost on their doorsteps. As it is, they face the prospect of broken windows — or worse — if problems develop during a launch.

SpaceX has offered to buy nearby homes at three times their market value, but it's not yet clear how many resident might be willing to sell or whether any who refuse could ultimately lose their property through eminent domain.

"We are working with the residents of Boca Chica Village because we think over time, it's going to be quite disruptive," Musk said Saturday. "I think the actual danger to Boca Chica Village is low, but it's not tiny. We want super tiny risks. Probably over time it would be better to buy out the villagers, and we've made an offer to that effect."

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