SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced that the company will be making some changes to its Starship rocket prototypes, including tweaking the material used in their construction.
The first prototypes of the Starship were constructed from a stainless steel alloy called 301. This steel uses chromium and nickel in addition to iron and is corrosion resistant and cheaper than other options like carbon fiber, so it has been a favored material in aerospace design for decades. However, SpaceX intends to make some adjustments to the material for future Starship versions.
“We should be able to do better in the 2020s than they did in, like, the ’50s, you know?” Musk said during a keynote conversation at the Satellite 2020 conference, as reported by space.com. “So, I think we’ll start switching away from 301 maybe in the next month or two.”
Musk did not specify exactly what type of alloy the company will be using in future, though it seems likely that it will be a slightly different version of stainless steel.
Musk has big plans for the Starship. The aim is to create a rocket capable of eventually carrying humans to Mars, with up to 100 passengers on board each flight. And earlier this week, Musk announced he intends for the new SpaceX factory in Boca Chica, Texas to produce one Starship rocket every 72 hours.
That fast rate of Starship production will be required if Musk is to achieve his lofty goals of carrying hundreds or even thousands of people to Mars. The aim is for the Starship to be reusable in a fast, efficient manner, with each individual Starship capable of being launched up to three times per day.
The Starship is designed “to be relaunched an hour after landing, with zero nominal work,” Musk said. “The only thing you expect to change on a regular basis is propellant.”
SpaceX has already had success with creating a partially reusable rocket, the Falcon 9, with several of its first stages having been reused multiple times in a succession of launches.
Making rockets reusuable is key to making space travel more affordable both for private companies and for space agencies like NASA that have contracts with SpaceX.