Get ready: the first SpaceX Starship launch is real

Elon Musk lost his claim to the most powerful space rocket when NASA launched its own mega-rocket to the moon in November.

But the SpaceX founder could reclaim the title with his company’s next big project. Starship, SpaceX’s Skyscraping rocket and spacecraft, will soon launch on its first mission. During the test flight, the colossal booster will separate about three minutes after takeoff and land in the Gulf of Mexico, according to federal documents.(Opens in a new tab). The ship will fly in space around the Earth at an altitude of more than 150 miles and then sink off the coast of Hawaii.(Opens in a new tab).

This will be a crucial demonstration of the hardware NASA depends on to get humans back to the moon in the coming years. And if successful, it will mean Musk is one step closer to realizing his personal dream of building a city on Mars.

UPDATE: March 17, 2023 9:21 am EDT Musk tweeted on March 16 that the company is ready to launch and all that’s left is to get its license from the Federal Aviation Administration. The first launch attempt “will be near the end of the third week of April,” he said.

The billionaire business tycoon has oversold deadlines in the past, but here’s what we know so far.


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What is the SpaceX spacecraft?

Starship is a super-heavy payload rocket and spacecraft, built to carry immense cargo and numerous astronauts into deep space.

The 400-foot-tall stainless steel tower looms over NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. It would take about five billboards stacked on top of the latter to keep up with Musk’s space rover. SpaceX estimates that its rocket also has about twice the thrust.

The rocket is made of stainless steel, a material Musk particularly likes because of its relatively low price. Unlike NASA’s lunar megarocket, which flies on super-cooled liquid hydrogen and oxygen, this beast is powered by 10 million pounds of liquid methane and oxygen. New fuel can be stored at more manageable temperatures(Opens in a new tab) than liquid hydrogen, which means it doesn’t need as much insulation and is less prone to leaks, a problem that often hampers NASA launches.

SpaceX’s spacecraft is made of stainless steel and runs on liquid methane.
Credit: SpaceX

Starship is destined to evolve into a fully reusable launch and landing system, designed for trips to the moon, Mars and other destinations. Its reuse is “the holy grail of space,” Musk said at a company event in South Texas last February, because it will make spaceflight more affordable for the average person.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” he said. “It’s barely possible with Earth physics.”

“It’s barely possible with Earth physics.”

SpaceX Starship landing on the moon

NASA turned to SpaceX to develop a version of the Starship human landing system.
Credit: SpaceX

How will NASA use the Starship?

NASA plans to use Starships to fly astronauts to the moon during Artemis III and IV(Opens in a new tab)two upcoming missions that could arrive in 2025 and 2027, respectively.

The space agency has turned to SpaceX(Opens in a new tab) to develop a version of Starship’s human landing system with a $4 billion contract. As part of the deal, the company will have to demonstrate an uncrewed test flight to the moon beforehand.

During Artemis III, Starship will transfer astronauts from NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the lunar south pole and back. But on the fourth mission, Starship is expected to dock at a space station in lunar orbit, the yet-to-be-built Gateway, and transport astronauts to and from the moon.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters in December that SpaceX appears to be honoring the contract and intends to conduct an uncrewed moon landing later this year. That mission would be followed by another landing with astronauts in late 2024.

“Slipps are always possible because it’s a completely new system,” Nelson said. “But they’ve been pretty impressive with what they’ve done with other systems.”

When is the first Starship space launch?

In fact, SpaceX is close to launching Starship, even though the company hasn’t formally announced a date.

Shortly after January, the company stacked the jumbo rocket on its launch pad on the Texas Gulf Coast, then loaded it with fuel for a so-called “wet dress rehearsal.” SpaceX said the test, a key practice for any new rocket, was successful.

The team took Starship apart for a test fire of the rocket booster’s 33 Raptor engines. Musk said that 31 of the 33 engines fired during the entire ground test, “there are still enough engines to reach orbit,” Musk tweeted on February 9.

“Slipps are always possible because it’s a brand new system. But they’ve been pretty impressive with what they’ve done with other systems.”

But for Starship to truly reach ignition, the FAA must clear the launch, which won’t happen until “SpaceX meets all licensing, safety, and other regulatory requirements,” according to an agency statement provided to Mashable in January. when the state was requested. The review is ongoing, a spokesman said.

SpaceX plans to launch Starship from South Texas

SpaceX will launch Starship for the first time from its spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.
Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Where will Starship launch?

Perhaps surprisingly, Starship won’t lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where most space fans are used to seeing historically significant launches.

Instead, it will take off from Boca Chica, Texas, at SpaceX’s own spaceport. Eventually, the company will launch the rocket from a construction site on the outer perimeter of the famous Florida platform that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

“Their plan is that they’re going to do some test flights there,” in south Texas, Nelson said. “Once they have the confidence, they will bring the missions to the Cape.”

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What are the chances of Starship succeeding?

SpaceX has launched partial Starship prototypes to practice landing, and several exploded or crashed in the process. However, one managed to return unscathed in May 2021, after flying about six miles in the sky.

Musk, who doesn’t parse words when it comes to the realities of spaceflight, once said that testing Starship in space probably wouldn’t succeed on the first try.

“There’s a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I wouldn’t say it’s likely to be successful.”

“There’s a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I wouldn’t say it’s likely to be successful,” he said during a video conference.(Opens in a new tab) with a panel of National Academies in 2021. “But I think we will make a lot of progress.”

What is SpaceX’s plan for Mars?

The SpaceX founder’s latest vision is to use a fleet of Starships to send 1 million(Opens in a new tab) humans to Mars by 2050.

To be clear, Musk wants to establish not just a place for people to visit, but a self-sufficient city. He envisions that, with a bit of warming, humans could restore a thick atmosphere and oceans to Mars, making it a more hospitable environment, even capable of farming.

“There is a fundamental juncture in the history of any civilization on a single planet, which is, do you get to the second planet or not?” Musk told the National Academies in 2021, “I move that we do it, and I think we should do it as soon as possible.”

SpaceX test firing Starship on the ground

SpaceX test fired a Starship prototype spacecraft on the ground in December.
Credit: SpaceX

“There is a fundamental juncture in the history of any civilization on a single planet, which is, do you get to the second planet or not?”

The spacecraft would be spacious enough for 100 passengers, along with their luggage, plus materials to build homes, businesses, rocket fuel stations, and iron foundries.

The journey to get there would be long, Musk said, but Starship would have entertainment.(Opens in a new tab)like zero gravity games, movies, lectures and a restaurant.

“It can’t feel cramped or boring,” he told the 2016 International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. “It will be a lot of fun to go. You will have a great time.”

Note: This article was originally published on February 4, 2023.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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