Company founder and CEO Elon Musk said that he’s “highly confident” SpaceX will launch people to the Red Planet by 2026, adding that the milestone could come as early as 2024.
The vehicle that will make these Mars trips is the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Starship, which will launch from Earth atop a giant rocket known as Super Heavy. Both of these crafts will be fully and rapidly reusable; Super Heavy will return to Earth for vertical touchdowns shortly after liftoff, and Starship will be able to fly from Earth orbit to Mars and back again many times, Musk stated.
SpaceX is iterating toward the final Starship via a series of prototypes, the latest of which, SN8, is gearing up for a big test flight. SpaceX aims to launch the three-engine SN8 to a target altitude of 9 miles (15 kilometers) this week, Musk said recently.
That’s far higher than any other Starship prototype has flown to date. Three single-engine variants — Starhopper, SN5 and SN6 — reached a maximum altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters) on their test flights, which occurred last summer and this past August and September, respectively.
The final Starship will sport six of SpaceX’s powerful new Raptor engines, Musk said. Super Heavy will sport about 30 Raptors.
Musk has long stressed that he founded SpaceX in 2002 primarily to help humanity become a multi-planet species.
By Kristofel Abella
Ka Lā News staff writer