Sept. 29 (UPI) -- SpaceX owner Elon Musk unveiled a new prototype of a spacecraft for private trips to the moon on the 11th anniversary Saturday night of his company's first successful orbital launch of a rocket.
The new Starship version called Mark 1 and a Super Heavy booster will send up to 100 people in space, then the moon and ultimately Mars. Also on display was Raptor, a full-flow, staged combustion rocket engine powered by cryogenic methane and liquid oxygen.
"This is, I think, the most inspiring thing I have ever seen," Musk told about 200 SpaceX employees, guests and reporters at the company's site near Boca Chica Village, just outside Brownsville, Texas. "Wow, what an incredible job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I'm so proud to work with such a great team."
Musk hopes to reach Earth orbit with a Starship prototype in about six months. And people could start flying aboard the vehicle possibly sometime next year.
"Starship will be the most powerful rocket in history, capable of carrying humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond," SpaceX posted on Twitter.
Last year, SpaceX announced the 387-foot version of the reusable rocket will send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and artists around the moon in the 2020s.
Musk said the Mark 1 would make a high-altitude suborbital flight in the near future from the Texas site, known as Boca Chica. "This thing is going to take off, fly to 65,000 feet, about 20 kilometers, and come back and land, in about one or two months," he said.
After the test flight, he said the company might move ahead directly to an orbital flight using a Starship prototype and a Super Heavy booster. That orbital flight, he said, would be done with a new Mark 3 prototype, construction of which he said would start in about a month at Boca Chica.
The company is also building Mark 2 near Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Musk's long-term vision is to send humans to the moon and Mars to make humanity "multiplanetary.
"I think we should really do our very best to become a multiplanet species and to extend consciousness beyond Earth and we should do it now," said at the conclusion of his 40-minute talk.
He wants to bring the price of Mars travel to about $200,000 per person instead of $10 billion using currently available technology.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has been critical of SpaceX's progress and emphasis on private-paying passengers.
Bridenstine said in a statement Friday: "I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow. In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It's time to deliver."
Musk said that SpaceX is spending only 5 percent of its overall resources on Starship. "Our resources are overwhelmingly on Falcon and Dragon," he said.
On Saturday, Musk described the use of stainless steel as the skin of the vehicle. "Stainless steel is by far the best design decision we have made," he said.
Although steel is heavier than carbon composite or aluminum-based materials used in most spacecraft,i t has exceptional thermal properties. Stainless steel 301 does not turn brittle at extremely cold temperatures and it does not melt until reaching 1500 degrees Centigrade. Because of this, Starship requires only a modest heat shield of glass-like thermal tiles.
In addition, steel sells for about $2,500 a ton compared with carbon fiber's $130,000 a ton cost.
"Steel is easy to weld, and weather resistant," Musk told the reporters. "The evidence being that we welded this outdoors, without a factory. Honestly, I'm in love with steel."
They key in cost-saving is being able to reuse the spacecraft and rockets.
"In almost any motor transport -- whether it's a plane or car, a horse, or bicycle -- it's reusable," Musk told CNN on Saturday in an interview. "If you could use a car only once, very few people could afford to drive a car. So the critical breakthrough that's necessary is a rapidly reusable orbital rocket.
"That is the Holy Grail of space"