SpaceX: the first orbital flight of the Starship megarocket planned “this year”

Elon Musk’s multiple projects in space are coming to fruition and some should see the light of day by the end of 2022. The head of SpaceX detailed on Thursday night, February 10, the latest technical advances on his giant Starship rocket , which should reach space for the first time “this year”. Tesla’s general manager has not announced any new mission projects or a firm date for this first orbital flight. The billionaire spoke of the company’s space base, called Starbase and located in the extreme south of Texas. It was here that this impressive rocket designed for interplanetary travel, in particular to Mars, was developed.

The event was particularly important since this vehicle was chosen by NASA to be the one that will take the next astronauts to the surface of the Moon. In front of an audience of guests and journalists, Elon Musk did not announce any surprises in a speech lasting more than an hour, but eagerly awaited by space enthusiasts. The only real news: He confirmed that SpaceX was building a launch tower for the Starship at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX’s Falcon rockets already launch.

Various designs planned for the Starship rocket

The boss listed the first projects awaiting Starship: satellite launches and missions to the Moon, including a private one with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on board. Elon Musk even hinted that other missions would be revealed soon. “There will be future announcements that I think will get people excited,” he said. As a backdrop, Starship, entirely black, was mounted on its silver propellant, the first stage of the rocket, baptized Super Heavy.

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The famous mega-rocket is 120 meters high, 9 meters in diameter and will be able to carry 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 has already been exceeded. The company is awaiting the green light from the American aviation authority (FAA), which must first study the environmental consequences of the operations. The decision should come out at the end of February.

A first orbital flight by the end of the year at the latest

“I am optimistic that we will have this authorization,” said Elon Musk. But SpaceX is still preparing to move its operations to Florida if necessary. Starbase would then focus on research and development. “In the worst case scenario, it will take 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 am very confident that we will go into orbit this year,” he said.

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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 ship. But he was only about 10 km above sea level. NASA chose to gamble on 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 upriver in orbit around the Moon, and astronauts arriving aboard its capsule (separately propelled by a rocket) will board it to take them to and from the lunar surface in 2025 in the former.

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To complete the trip, the lander must first be supplied with fuel 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 over 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 the billionaire’s grand price-cutting strategy.

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Each flight will only cost “a few million dollars”, in any case “less than ten million”, he guaranteed, against dozens for the 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 essential, according to him, in the face of the threats that hang over it only on our Earth.” The Starship is capable of doing this, bringing a million tons to the surface of Mars and creating a city ’ he hammered. And “I think we should do this as soon as possible.”

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