Tech billionaire Elon Musk has said that a spacecraft built to ferry humans to Mars is now the “top priority” for his company SpaceX.
Musk instructed employees to accelerate progress on the Starship rocket “dramatically and immediately”, in an email seen by CNBC.
He wrote: “Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship.”
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying passengers to the Space Station this year in the first-ever commercial crewed space launch.
Musk, the South African-born high-tech entrepreneur who made his fortune in Silicon Valley, is also CEO of electric carmaker and battery manufacturer Tesla.
In 2019, his company SpaceX unveiled a prototype of Starship, a steel vehicle designed to carry up to 100 people to the moon or Mars.
SpaceX is currently working on the Starship at a complex near Austin, Texas.
The firm launched a batch of 60 small satellites into low-Earth orbit in March for Musk’s new Starlink internet service.
In total, 300 have been launched so far, with 12,000 planned in the long run.
Musk hopes the Starlink satellites will generate cash for his larger ambitions in space, and they have been visible over Britain in recent months.
The National Space Centre wrote in a blog post: “Many people have been asking about a string of bright lights heading over their houses late at night.
“If you have seen this series of bright objects in the night sky, it is most likely that you have seen the SpaceX Starlink satellites.
“The satellites are launched in batches of 60 deploying into an orbit about 180 miles above our planet, before thruster firings over the next one-to-four months move them to an operational altitude of around 340 miles.”
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The satellites form the initial phase of a planned constellation capable of beaming signals for high-speed internet service from space to paying customers around the globe.