Elon Musk Takes Us Inside SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 Prototype (Video)

We get a look at the cavernous cargo bay.

Just a few days after showing off the shiny silver exterior of SpaceX’s new spaceship, Elon Musk has provided a peek at the inside.

On Saturday night (Sept. 28), the SpaceX founder and CEO gave us a design update about Starship and Super Heavy, the reusable spacecraft and rocket, respectively, that the company is developing to help humanity colonize Mars.

Musk delivered the presentation in front of the newly assembled stainless-steel Starship Mk1, the first full-size prototype of the 100-passenger spacecraft. And early Tuesday morning (Oct. 1), he gave us a look at the interior of the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Mk1. 

SpaceX's Starship Mk1 prototype (left) stands next to one of the Falcon 1 rocket first stages at the company's South Texas site.
SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 prototype (left)  stands 165 feet (50 meters) tall at the company’s Boca Chica site in South Texas. A Falcon 1 rocket first stage for SpaceX’s first rocket is visible at right. 

Musk posted a 10-second video on Twitter showing the cavernous cargo bay of the spacecraft, which is a whopping 30 feet (9 m) wide.

“Inside Starship cargo bay. Header tanks mounted in tip of nosecone to offset engine weight at rear,” Musk wrote in the Twitter post.

“Production version will be a lot more polished than this prototype, but still fun to see,” he added in another tweet about half an hour later.Click here for more Space.com videos…SpaceX Starship Update – Moon, Mars, Saturn..and Aliens? – Elon Musk ExplainsVolume 0% 

The Mk1 sports three of SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engines. The final Starship will have six Raptors, and the Super Heavy will have space for 37 of the engines. At least 31 of those slots will probably be filled on each launch of the huge booster, Musk said on Saturday.

The Mk1 will make its first flight soon, if all goes according to plan. In the next month or two, SpaceX aims to launch the prototype on an uncrewed, 12-mile-high (20 kilometers) jaunt into the skies above SpaceX’s South Texas facility, Musk has said.Click here for more Space.com videos…SpaceX Super Heavy Rocket Could Have 37 Engines – Elon Musk ExplainsVolume 0% 

A Starship prototype could reach orbit within six months if development work continues to go well, he said on Saturday night. That milestone flight will probably be made by a future iteration of the spacecraft, he added, perhaps the Mk4 or Mk5.

And we might not have to wait too long after that for commercial operations to begin. Starship and Super Heavy may start launching communications satellites as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. And the company has a crewed mission on the docket with a targeted launch date of 2023 — a round-the-moon trip booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who said he plans to take a handful of artists with him.

Virgin Galactic Will Launch a Crewed Research Flight for Italy in 1st for Government-Private Spaceflight

Virgin Galactic has booked a crewed research flight to suborbital space for the Italian Air Force that could fly in the next year. Virgin Galactic has one SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) in trials and is building a new ship (shown here).

Virgin Galactic has booked a crewed research flight to suborbital space for the Italian Air Force that could fly in the next year. Virgin Galactic has one SpaceShipTwo (VSS Unity) in trials and is building a new ship (shown here). (Image: © Virgin Galactic 2019)

For the first time ever, a government agency has booked a crewed research flight aboard a commercial spacecraft.

That agency is the Italian Air Force, which will send three people and a variety of scientific payloads to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, perhaps as early as next year.

The experiments include gear that will monitor how the shift from Earth gravity to microgravity affects the human body, Virgin Galactic representatives said today (Oct. 2) when announcing the deal. The flight will also haul equipment designed to investigate the chemistry of environmentally friendly fuels.

“We’re delighted to work with the Italian air force to further space-based research-and-technology development through this historic mission,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a statement

“The experiments they plan to test on SpaceShipTwo will expand our understanding of space science, and the researchers’ active participation will demonstrate an important new avenue for space research,” he added. “We are proud that Virgin Galactic is able to provide frequent access to space for this important work.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight system involves two vehicles, the six-passenger SpaceShipTwo and a carrier plane called WhiteKnightTwo. The carrier vessel transports the space plane to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) and then drops it, at which point SpaceShipTwo powers up its rocket motor and cruises up to suborbital space.

Passengers on SpaceShipTwo will be able to see the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space and experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Those few minutes are precious for researchers, who can conduct experiments in conditions impossible to recreate here on Earth’s surface.

The Italian researchers will be active participants in this work on the upcoming flight, Virgin Galactic representatives said: The spaceflyers will unclip from their seats and conduct the experiments during the brief microgravity stretch. 

A seat aboard SpaceShipTwo currently sells for $250,000, and more than 600 people have put down deposits to reserve a ticket.Click here for more Space.com videos…Virgin Galactic Moves to Spaceport AmericaVolume 0% 

Virgin Galactic is still in the test-flight phase but looks poised to begin commercial operations soon. The company’s latest SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, has already reached space twice, in December 2018 and February 2019. Technicians are touching up Unity’s interior at Virgin’s manufacturing facility in Mojave, California; the vehicle will be ferried to Spaceport America in New Mexico, the company’s commercial hub, when this work is done, Virgin Galactic representatives have said.

Unity is Virgin’s second SpaceShipTwo. The first, VSS Enterprise, was destroyed during a test-flight accident in October 2014 that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Two more SpaceShipTwos are in production in Mojave. One of these vehicles should be ready to begin test flights in 2020, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses told Space.com recently.

The Italian air force deal isn’t the first contract Virgin Galactic has signed with a government department. The company has flown NASA payloads to suborbital space, but no NASA folks went along for the ride.

Government-funded crewed flights on commercial spacecraft will soon become relatively commonplace, if all goes according to plan — and not just to suborbital space. 

In 2014, NASA awarded both Boeing and SpaceX multibillion-dollar contracts to develop vehicles that will ferry agency astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). But those are primarily transport flights to the station, not research flights aboard the vehicles themselves. 

Development of both private capsules, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, has proceeded more slowly than NASA had hoped; agency officials said in 2014 that they wanted at least one of the vehicles up and running by the end of 2017. But big milestones may be in sight; both spacecraft could launch their first crewed test flights to the ISS in the coming months.