Sep 29, 2019

Elon Musk reveals SpaceX's Starship prototype

SpaceX's Starship prototype in Boca Chica, Texas. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the company's prototype Starship during a flashy event at its test site in Boca Chica, Texas, on Saturday night.

Why it matters: Musk hopes that one day the fully realized Starship will transport people and payloads to destinations like the Moon and Mars, helping to make humanity multiplanetary and insulating the species from any existential threats that could impact Earth.

Details: Musk said that the prototype Starship is expected to make its first flight, to an altitude of about 65,000 feet, in the next few months.

  • SpaceX will push for an orbital flight quickly, Musk said, adding that the company may try to send the Starship to orbit in about 6 months.
  • “I think we could potentially see people fly next year if we get to orbit in about 6 months,” Musk said.
  • The company is also planning to develop its Super Heavy rocket with up to 37 engines that can send Starship to deep space.

The intrigue: The Starship event triggered a pointed statement from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as SpaceX works toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon for NASA for the first time:

  • "I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow," Bridenstine said in a tweet ahead of the event. "In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It's time to deliver."
  • Musk responded to the tweet, saying that less than 5% of the company is focused on Starship.

Go deeper: Watch a replay of the Starship event

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SpaceX and Boeing unlikely to launch astronauts to orbit this year

SpaceX's uncrewed Crew Dragon mission at launch. Photo: SpaceX

Boeing and SpaceX — tasked with building spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA — are not likely to launch people to orbit before the end of the year.

Why it matters: The Commercial Crew program is tasked with ending NASA's reliance on Russia's Soyuz rocket but has faced technical delays and budget shortfalls for years, leaving the space agency dependent on Russia's spaceflight capabilities.

Go deeperArrowOct 8, 2019

NASA has a new head of human spaceflight

Photo: NASA

Former Department of Defense official Douglas Loverro has been named NASA's new head of human spaceflight after a months-long search.

Why it matters: Loverro will help lead NASA's push to the Moon as part of its Artemis program to land astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024, as directed by the Trump administration.

Read moreArrowOct 16, 2019

Brands in orbit

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Fashion, food and media brands are using the buzz around the space industry to market their products, shaping the way people on Earth understand and interact with the extraterrestrial sphere for years to come.

What's happening: Last week, Virgin Galactic announced a partnership with Under Armour to produce a line of spacewear to be worn on the company's suborbital flights to the edge of space.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019