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Elon Musk unveils new Mars rocket prototype, expects missions in months

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(Reuters) – Billionaire businessman Elon Musk unveiled the latest iteration of his space company's newly assembled Starship, describing a quick development timeline for SpaceX's central search vehicle for launching humans on the moon and Mars.

A prototype of the SpaceX Starship spacecraft is seen before SpaceX's Elon Musk updates the Starship company Mars rocket in Boca Chica, Texas, USA, September 28, 2019. REUTERS / Callaghan O & # 39; Hare

Musk showed a crowd of space enthusiasts and reporters on SpaceX's rocket development site on Saturday in the remote village of Boca Chica, Texas, spacecraft animations landing on the moon and Mars and predicted the first orbital flight of the rocket. could occur in the next six months, followed by human space missions on board next year.

"This is basically the holy grail of space," said Musk, between a newly assembled Starship rocket and Falcon 1 – the company's first vehicle whose debut orbital mission was celebrated by SpaceX 11 years ago.

"The critical breakthrough that is needed to become a space civilization is to make space travel like air travel," said Musk, who is also chief executive of Tesla electric carmaker.TSLA.O)

The Starship, a shiny steel rocket designed to carry dozens of humans to the moon and Mars, is the upper half of Musk's colossal 118-meter high interplanetary rocket system, the latest addition to the reusable launch vehicle line. From SpaceX. Musk named Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the first private passenger of the Starship in 2018.

The village of Boca Chica, a few miles north of the Mexican border, is ground zero of SpaceX's three-year experimental Starship program, whose rocket engine tests have shaken the nerves of residents living in a remote village. of about two dozen houses per mile far.

"I think the real danger to the village of Boca Chica is low but not small," Musk said during a Q&A session. "So probably over time it would be better to buy the villages and we made an offer to that effect."

Some residents have rejected SpaceX's non-negotiable offer to buy their homes for three times the market value.

A three-legged rocket prototype called Starhopper has been launched in the village twice since July, most recently flying up to 152 meters and landing on an adjacent concrete slab to test Musk's rocket engine called Raptor.

Musk's mission to the moon is in line with NASA's goal of sending humans there by 2024 under its Artemis program, an accelerated deep space initiative driven by the Trump government in March to work with a handful of US space companies in the United States. building a long term. presence on the lunar surface before finally colonizing Mars.

The space agency used SpaceX to figure out how to land vehicles on the lunar surface and to help develop a system for refueling rockets – such as Starship – in space, a "key technology to aid sustained exploration efforts on the moon and Mars," it said. Nasa at a release on Friday.

NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co (BANKING) a total of $ 6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from the US ground for the first time since 2011. The development of both astronaut capsules has been affected by testing delays and mishaps.

“I look forward to the announcement of SpaceX tomorrow. Meanwhile, the commercial crew is years behind schedule, ”NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an evening statement. “NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the US taxpayer's investments. It's time to deliver. "

Joey Roulette report in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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