Elon Musk says SpaceX rocket could shuttle passengers and cargo between countries

Fans gather in Texas for first major presentation by SpaceX CEO on the Starship spacecraft since 2019

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. AFP
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Elon Musk on Thursday unveiled his latest plans for the SpaceX Starship, saying the world's biggest rocket will fly to space weekly this year, and set a goal of multiple Starships blasting off several times a day in the not-too-distant future.

Mr Musk, addressing a crowd of fans, journalists and SpaceX workers at his company's Starbase facility in south Texas, said the cost of rocket launches was diminishing to the point where rockets can compete with commercial airliners for long-distance travel across the Earth.

"There is a scenario where it's economically compelling to do long-distance cargo and and people transport," Mr Musk said on an outdoor stage with the gleaming, 120-metre silver rocket behind him.

Nothing is "faster than, you know, an ICBM," he added.

The world's richest man started his presentation — the first Starship update in two years — by reiterating his dream of making humankind a multi-planetary species, first by establishing a base on Mars before ultimately exploring outside our solar system.

"Why build a giant, reusable rocket? Why make life multiplanetary?" Mr Musk said.

SpaceX Starship crash-lands after test flight

SpaceX Starship crash-lands after test flight

"This is just an incredibly important thing for the future of life itself," he continued, pointing to the possibility of natural disaster or humanity self-destructing as the reason people -- and animals and plants -- should live off planet.

“We are life’s stewards, life’s guardians, you know, the the creatures that we love cannot they can’t build spaceships, but we can and we can bring them with us," he said.

The Starship is designed to be a reusable spacecraft that can carry either 100 metric tonnes or 100 passengers to the Earth's orbit, and potentially beyond.

Mr Musk said the increased payload could eventually see the Starship carry 150 tonnes.

He also expanded on how SpaceX has worked on a reusable heat shield and orbital refilling capsules for the rocket.

"People will be pretty fired up about a super exciting future ahead," he said as he described plans to build orbiting rocket refuelling platforms.

"There probably be a few bumps in the road, you know, but we want to iron those out with satellite missions and test missions and get to high flight rates, something that's extremely reliable for for human spaceflight."

The prototype's journey has been rocky with its several suborbital test flights — some resulting in explosions — until SpaceX completed a successful Starship flight and landing in May 2021.

"It's insanely hard to get a rocket to orbit, insanely difficult," he said. "I have huge respect for anyone who's because dropping a rock to orbit. It's so hard and we've had 144 successful launches, 106 landings."

Mr Musk only briefly previewed upcoming trips to the moon, Mars and other space missions such as orbital test flights, but said there will be "some future announcements".

The chief executive and founder of SpaceX has shared his hopes for an orbital test flight, but Mr Musk's plans await the Federal Aviation Administration's approval, which the agency says may come as early as February 28.

"Orbital flight is really just the beginning," he declared.

Mr Musk, however, has already sold a flight around the Moon for 2023, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as a passenger.

Nasa is also contracted with SpaceX for an astronaut-crewed Moon mission — a win for Mr Musk after he edged out a bid by Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin.

"SpaceX is just deeply honoured and appreciative that that NASA would would choose us for for this incredibly important mission," he shared. "And we'll get it done."

Fans gathered near Starbase to catch a glimpse of the rocket.

Bloomberg News reported media, company employees and fans took over hotels in the nearest city, Brownsville, and emptied rental cars at the municipal airport.

"I really just like to congratulate the SpaceX team," Mr Musk said. "And and also thank NASA, the FAA the Space Force, and everyone and all of our customers that have helped us get to this point."

Updated: April 27, 2022, 1:38 PM