– Elon Musk promises first orbital flight ‘this year’ for his Starship rocket
The giant Starship rocket was chosen by NASA to take the next astronauts to the surface of the Moon.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk on Thursday night detailed the latest technical advances on his giant Starship rocket, which is due to hit space for the first time “this year”, without announcing new mission plans or a firm date for this one. first orbital flight.
The billionaire was talking about the company’s space base, called Starbase and located in the southern tip of Texas. It was here that this impressive rocket for interplanetary travel, especially to Mars, was developed. The event was of particular importance as this vehicle was selected by NASA to be the one that will take the next astronauts to the surface of the Moon.
Before an audience of guests and journalists, Elon Musk did not announce any devastating surprises during a speech that lasted more than an hour, but was eagerly awaited by space aficionados. The only real news: he confirmed that SpaceX was building a launch tower for the Starship in Cape Canaveral, Florida, from where SpaceX’s Falcon rockets are already launched.
The boss listed the first projects that await Starship: satellite launches and missions to the Moon, including a private one with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on board. Elon Musk hinted that more missions will be revealed soon. “There will be upcoming announcements that I think will get people excited,” he said.
Transfer to Florida
As a backdrop, the Starship – completely black – was mounted on its silver thruster, the first stage of the rocket, dubbed the Super Heavy. The machine is 120 meters high, 9 meters in diameter and will be able to transport around 100 tons into orbit. This launcher has never flown in this complete configuration (also called Starship for short), with its two stages.
Elon Musk had promised a first orbital test for January or February 2022. But the deadline was exceeded.
The company awaits the green light from the American Aeronautical Authority (FAA), which must first study the environmental consequences of operations. The decision should come out at the end of February. “I’m optimistic that we will have this release,” said Elon Musk.
But SpaceX is still preparing to move its operations to Florida if necessary. Starbase would then become dedicated to research and development. “In the worst case, it will take us six to eight months to build the launch tower in Cap (Canaveral) and take off from there”, assured the boss, accustomed to very optimistic schedule announcements. “I’m very confident that we’re going to go into orbit this year,” he said.
The starship alone has already made several suborbital flights: after some tests that ended in impressive explosions in late 2020 and in 2021, SpaceX finally managed to land the spacecraft. But he was only about 10 km above sea level.
NASA chose to bet on the Starship to become the lander used as part of its Artemis program to return to the Moon. A version of the spacecraft will have to be placed upstream in orbit around the Moon and astronauts who arrive aboard its capsule (propelled separately by a rocket) will board it for it to take and bring them back to the lunar surface, in 2025 at the earliest.
To complete the journey, the lander must first be fueled directly in space, in near-Earth orbit, by other starships that have come to refuel it. A highly dangerous transfer that Elon Musk said he wanted to test out in the next two years.
The great novelty of this device is that it must be fully reusable: not only the Starship, but also the Super Heavy, must be recovered after each flight. That’s Elon Musk’s grand strategy to cut prices.
Each flight will cost only “a few million dollars”, in any case “less than ten million”, he assured, against dozens of Falcon 9 currently and which is partially recovered on Earth. An imperative, because the billionaire estimates that humans will need hundreds of Starship rockets to one day become a multiplanetary species, settling on Mars.
This “life insurance” for humanity is, according to him, essential, given the threats that hang over it on our one Earth. “The starship is capable of doing this, bringing a million tons to the surface of Mars and creating a self-sustaining city,” he said. And “I think we should do it as soon as possible.”
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