5 Takeaways From Elon Musk's Long-Awaited Starship Update

On Thursday this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave his first major Starship presentation since 2019.

The Starship project is the next big step for SpaceX, which has ambitions of using the future ship to one day ferry humans to the moon and Mars.

Despite the company appearing to put a full prototype together at its Starbase hub this week, the project is still awaiting federal approval and SpaceX has been shy so far about concrete launch dates.

Below are five key takeaways from Musk's Starship presentation, which was streamed live to YouTube.

When Will Starship Fly?

Likely to be the most pressing question for many SpaceX fans is when the company expects to carry out the first orbital test of Starship—the expected date for which has been pushed back in recent months.

No concrete dates were set out during the presentation.

However, in a Q&A section towards the end, Musk said that while he does not have a lot of insight into the ongoing Starship project approval process being carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) there has been a "rough indication" of an approval in March.

Once this approval has been granted, SpaceX will be able to move forwards with operating Starship. Musk said the short-term plan for the ship would be to prove its capabilities with test missions and then satellite deliveries in order to iron out "bumps in the road" before embarking on human flights.

He also said he hoped that SpaceX could carry out orbital refilling tests "towards the end" of 2023.

Starship Facts and Figures

Over the course of the presentation Musk outlined a number of statistics about Starship, such as that the spaceship section will have a total height of 164 feet and a diameter of 30 feet, while the booster will be a lofty 226 feet tall. In his words, it is "very, very big".

Producing 17 million pounds of thrust with 33 individual engines, the booster will be able to launch a total mass of between 100 and 150 tons depending on the desired orbit.

Musk said this compares to seven million pounds of thrust generated by the mighty Saturn V rocket that put astronauts on the moon in 1969.

The ship also makes use of what Musk called "the world's largest heat shield"—the components of which are made in a Florida factory known as The Bakery.

Musk added that by the end of this year it is hoped that SpaceX will be producing one Starship booster as well as one spaceship section every month.

In addition, he hopes it will cost less than 10 million dollars per 100-ton flight to what he called a "useful orbit".

Ambitions Are High for Starship's Reusability

Musk said that the hulking Starship spacecraft is intended to have a turnaround time of just hours between launches—an unprecedented development in space technology if achieved.

"The ship is probably reusable about every six to eight hours… in theory the booster is capable of being reused every hour," he said.

It's worth noting though that the company is far from making this a reality just yet.

Musk added that despite Starship's hulking size, launches will be quick with the booster stage returning to Earth within just six minutes.

Starship Will Not Have a Launch Abort System

On the safety of Starship, Musk confirmed that the spacecraft will not have an independent launch-abort system that could quickly take passengers away from danger if something were to go wrong mid-flight.

However, he added that it "would make sense" for the manned section of the ship to be able to accelerate away from the booster if there was some sort of failure at the launch pad.

Regarding life support systems, Musk said Starship would have to have a fully closed-loop recycling system for Mars missions in order to keep passengers on board alive for the duration.

Musk Has Concerns About Earth's Future

Musk has spoken in the past about what the goal of SpaceX is and why he feels it is important for life to spread away from Earth.

Addressing this in the presentation, the SpaceX CEO justified this as "life insurance" and said: "There's always some chance that something could go wrong on earth... there could be some calamity where we do ourselves in or there's a natural disaster."

He later added: "I'm going to be frank—civilization is feeling a little fragile these days. I'm an optimist, be we've got to protect the downside here and try to build that city on Mars as soon as possible."

Perhaps this is what Musk was thinking about when he "zoned out" at one point during the Q&A section, prompting him to ask a reporter to repeat their question.

Elon Musk waving
Elon Musk pictured at the Starship presentation in South Texas on February 10, 2022. Musk hopes the Starship project will lead humans to Mars. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty