With its Starship spacecraft, SpaceX worries its competitors (including NASA)

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Last Thursday, Elon Musk organized a conference with great fanfare to discuss the progress of the Starship project. His company spacecraft, SpaceX, he says, is due to launch for the first time this year. Enough to overshadow other similar projects, according to several subject matter experts.

The staging was neat, last Thursday, during the press conference given by Elon Musk in southwest Texas, at SpaceX’s “Starbase”. He did not fail to draw in the background the ship that is the subject of much attention: the “Starship”. The latter was designed to be a multi-purpose, reusable space vehicle capable of initially transporting equipment or humans between Earth and the Moon.

Elon Musk announced that the first flight of his spacecraft will take place this year. ” At this point, I am very confident that we will go into orbit this year. “, he declared thus. ” It will work. There may be some bumps along the way, but it will work. “, he said too. However, he wasn’t more specific about the date that many had been hoping for.

Elon Musk giving his press conference at Starbase (Texas). © SpaceX

However, according to Rand Simberg, an aerospace engineer and space industry consultant, recently interviewed by the media Political, this year’s flight is a cause for concern for SpaceX’s competitors. ” Once the reliability of the new system has been demonstrated by a large number of flights, which could happen within a few months, it will render all existing launch systems obsolete. “, he also explains. ” If the SLS doesn’t fly more than once every two years, it simply won’t be a big player in space in the future, especially when Starship flies. “, he adds.

By “SLS” he refers to the “Rocket Space Launch System”, the rocket that NASA plans to use for its Artemis missions, along with the “Orion” capsule. These are three lunar surface exploration missions. The first is also scheduled for 2022, and the first human moon landing on these missions is scheduled for 2025. The SLS and Orion are built in collaboration with manufacturers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman…

The outdated Space Launch System?

Construction of the SLS, however, experienced several delays and over-budgets throughout the project. Again this year, the flight, which was scheduled for the beginning of the year, is finally announced for spring. If the Starship is functional and less expensive, which is assumed to be the case due to its reuse, then the SLS and Orion capsule could really become outdated.

Robert Walker, a space industry consultant and former chairman of the chamber’s scientific committee, was also interviewed by Political. For him, it is in particular the launch frequency of the ship that can work in his favor: ” If Artemis’s first flight is successful, it could be two years before we can get to the second. (…) Musk can deploy all this quickly “, he also explains.

In addition, we can note that SpaceX is already working in collaboration with NASA on the Artemis program, in particular on the moon landing system for astronauts. Those who are currently collaborating with NASA therefore have reason to be concerned. To be blunt, one space lobbyist even said: “ they shit on each other He remained on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting his allies in Congress.

It remains to be seen whether these frequent flights are desirable from an environmental point of view. Last year, Héloïse Marais, associate professor of physical geography at University College London, explained the The Guardian : “ A long-haul plane flight represents 3 tons of carbon dioxide [par passager]. Already a rocket launch emits between 200 and 300 tons for a flight of about four passengers. “Add to this that these emissions are directly in the upper atmosphere, where they can remain for several years, and that other ozone-depleting gases can be emitted when the rocket burns its fuel.

If space flights remained far enough on the list of major polluters, it was mainly because they were infrequent… With this type of space vehicle, the situation can change radically. ” We currently have no regulations on rocket emissions. “, also stated Eloise Marais. ” It’s really time to act as billionaires buy their next ticket to space “.

Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration, at the time of Elon Musk’s speech, had not yet approved Starship’s orbital flight for environmental reasons. The leader, however, was confident of an approval next year…

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