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SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, is working diligently on a wildly ambitious project: to permanently settle people on Mars.

To help make that vision a reality, Musk's company is developing a colossal, fully reusable launch system called Starship.

Starship is envisioned as a 180-foot-tall spaceship that will ride into orbit atop Super Heavy, a rocket booster about 220 feet tall, according to Musk's latest descriptions.

The spaceship is designed to be refueled in low-Earth orbit in order to propel 100 passengers and more than 100 tons of cargo at a time to Mars.

But the success or failure of the launch system – and by extension Musk's plan to back up the human race – may boil down to the viability of two major and recent design changes, which Musk has described as "radical" and "delightfully counterintuitive."

One change involves building the spaceship from stainless-steel alloysinstead of carbon-fibre composites.

But the most surprising shift, according to aerospace-industry experts, is the way Starship will try to keep itself from burning up in the atmospheres of Mars and Earth.

Instead of relying on of thousands of heavy ceramic tiles to shield Starship from heat, as NASA did with its space shuttle, Musk says the spaceship will "bleed" rocket fuel through tiny pores to cool itself down.

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Category: Science