Elon Musk at SXSW: Mars Spaceship Will Be Ready for First Flights by 2019

Elon Musk made a surprise appearance at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference on Sunday where he revealed during a Q&A that his company SpaceX's Mars rocket could be ready for test flights as soon as next year.

The billionaire entrepreneur has previously said he is aiming to launch a cargo mission to Mars by 2022 as part of a plan to eventually set up a human colony on the Red Planet.

"I can tell you that we are building the first ship, the first Mars interplanetary ship right now," Musk told a crowd at the conference in Austin, Texas. "And I think we'll be able to do short flights, sort of up-and-down flights, probably some time in the first half of next year," he said.

Musk was referring to SpaceX's next-generation BFR rocket system that will be capable of interplanetary space travel while also being completely reusable if the project is successful.

However, he joked that the timelines for his projects tended to be a little ambitious, prompting laughter from the audience.

A single launch of the BFR would only cost around $5 to $6 million, making it cheaper per flight than even the Falcon I, SpaceX's first rocket, which was designed to simply launch satellites into Earth's orbit.

Billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX Elon Musk speaks below a computer-generated illustration of his BFR rocket at the 68th International Astronautical Congress 2017 in Adelaide, Australia, on September 29, 2017. Musk revealed Sunday that his company's Mars rocket could be ready for tests as early as 2019. PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

"What's amazing about this ship, assuming we can make full and rapid reusability work, is that we can reduce the module cost per flight dramatically by orders of magnitude compared to where it is today," Musk said. The SpaceX founder and CEO said the cost-effectiveness of the BFR will enable the creation of a permanent base on the moon and a city on Mars.

When asked what the general public could do to help his ambitions of reaching Mars, Musk said: "I think right now the biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement."

"Once [BFR] has been built and there's a means of getting cargo and people to and from Mars, as well as to and from the moon and other places in the solar system, then I think that's where a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial resources will be needed....This is because you have to build out the entire base of industry, everything that allows human civilization to exist."

In the short term for example, a Mars colony would require glass domes for growing crops, power stations and other essential infrastructure. But, Musk said, eventually new opportunities will arise because there will be demand on the planet for everything from "iron foundries" to "bars" and "pizza joints."