Musk to give rare presentation on ambitious Starship rocket

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Awards ceremony, in Berlin, on December 1, 2020. (Photo by HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / POOL / AFP)

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States (AFP) – Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is set Thursday night to deliver an eagerly-awaited update on SpaceX’s Starship, a prototype rocket the company is developing for crewed interplanetary exploration.

The tycoon will make his presentation at SpaceX’s Starbase facility near Boca Chica, south Texas, at 8:00 pm local time (0200 GMT Friday), against the impressive backdrop of the spacecraft in its fully-stacked configuration, standing 394 feet (120 meters) tall.

It will be Musk’s first detailed progress report since 2019 — though he often provides small updates on Twitter — and is expected be live-streamed on the company’s website.

Ahead of the event, he tweeted several photos and videos of Starship’s matte black upper-stage being placed on its shimmering silver Super Heavy first-stage rocket.

SpaceX’s first orbital Starship SN20 is stacked atop its massive Super Heavy Booster 4 at the company’s Starbase facility near Boca Chica Village in South Texas on February 10, 2022. – Elon Musk’s SpaceX has reassembled the world’s tallest rocket ahead of a highly anticipated update on the company’s Starship program in South Texas. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

Together, they make the biggest spacecraft ever built: taller than even the Saturn V rockets that took astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo era.

Made of stainless steel and designed to be fully reusable, Starship is intended to lift up to 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit.

SpaceX envisages the ship carrying crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond — and last year, NASA awarded the company a contract for a version of Starship to ferry astronauts on the Artemis program from lunar orbit to the surface.

Starship’s upper stage has already made several suborbital flights. After multiple tests that ended in impressive explosions, SpaceX finally succeeded in landing the spacecraft last May.

Musk has promised a far more ambitious orbital test this year — pending clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration — which will require both stages of the vessel.

The FAA said in a December release that clearance could come by February 28, meaning the milestone could take place in March at the earliest.