SpaceX's Starship Explained As Elon Musk Shares Photo of Mars Rocket Being Built

Elon Musk has shared a photo of rocket engines being attached to the company's enormous Mars-bound Starship rocket in preparation for its first orbital flight, which is expected to be some time soon.

It's not clear exactly when the rocket will launch. Musk, the company's founder, previously said Starship could embark on its first orbital flight in July—a goal the company did not end up meeting.

Installing Starship booster engines for first orbital flight pic.twitter.com/yhqrNFBclh

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 2, 2021

But progress has been steady this year. The company has made several high-profile flight tests of Starship spacecraft prototypes and successfully managed to land one in May with the SN15 flight test.

Prior to that, all the Starship high-altitude SN test models had exploded either upon or shortly after touching down.

Starship is designed to carry out missions to the moon and Mars. It is made up of two sections: a rocket booster called Super Heavy and a spacecraft payload section also called Starship.

Most recently on July 19, SpaceX conducted a test-firing of the engines on its Super Heavy rocket booster for the first time.

On July 29 Musk shared a photo on Twitter of the complex inner workings of Super Heavy, which will make use of 29 Raptor rocket engines.

And photos and footage from SpaceX's Starbase flight facility in Texas show that site infrastructure is coming together, including a launch structure for Starship.

According to local officials, SpaceX has scheduled a road closure for a transport—possibly for the Super Heavy booster—on Monday afternoon. Newsweek has contacted SpaceX to confirm why the road as closed.

Super Heavy, which has not yet flown, will eventually be connected to Starship's payload section to form the fully-assembled final system.

The name may be confusing. To be clear, prototypes of the payload section of Starship, which is also called Starship on its own and will eventually house astronauts and cargo, have been on several test flights but have not been into orbit. The entire Starship full assembly including the Super Heavy booster has not flown once.

This is set to change in the near future. In June, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company was "on the cusp" of flying Starship for the first time despite the company going on to miss its mooted July target.

According to the aerospace company's flight plan submitted to the Federal Communications Commission, the orbital test flight of Starship will see both sections of the rocket take off and splash down for an ocean landing rather than attempt to land themselves vertically, as SpaceX rockets usually tend to.

When fully assembled and operational, Starship will be the most powerful rocket ever developed, SpaceX says, with the ability to carry more than 100 tons of cargo to Mars and the moon, though it's unclear exactly how much.

The mighty Saturn V rocket, the backbone of the Apollo program that put humans on the moon in 1969, could carry about 130 tons to Earth orbit.

Starship will be used to take astronauts and cargo to the moon and Mars on long-duration missions, and a variant is expected to be used to put humans on the lunar surface as part of NASA's Artemis programme as soon as 2024.

Elon Musk speaking
Elon Musk discusses Mars colonization plans at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, September 2017. SpaceX plans to use Starship for Mars missions. Mark Brake/Getty