- SpaceX is poised to launch the Starship rocket into orbit once it has received a launch license
- If the launch fails, Musk reckons there is an 80 percent chance that another spacecraft will succeed in 2023
It’s one of the most anticipated space launches of the year and, according to Elon Musk, “it sure won’t get boring.”
That’s because the SpaceX billionaire has admitted there’s a 50 percent chance its $3 billion (£2.4 billion) Starship rocket could explode during its first orbital launch, which is set to take place in the next few weeks .
“I’m not saying it’s going to orbit, but I guarantee excitement,” he said of the vehicle being built to go to Mars, before adding, “Don’t get bored!”
“I think it has, I don’t know, hopefully a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit,” Musk said during an interview at the Morgan Stanley Conference last week.
Although he didn’t specifically say the rocket would explode, the history of SpaceX’s suborbital test flights suggests that failure to reach orbit would likely be due to an explosion.
If the first orbital launch attempt is unsuccessful, the Tesla CEO added that SpaceX is building several more Starship rockets and that overall he has an 80 percent chance one of them will reach orbit before the end of the year.
STARSHIP: IMPORTANT FACTS
First launch: March 2023?
What is it used for? Part of the landers for NASA’s moon missions, but also to transport people to Mars.
Height: 120 m (395 feet)
Weight: 11 million pounds (5 million kg)
Thrust: 16 million pounds (70 meganewtons)
Is it reusable? Yes
Maximum Payload in a Low Earth Orbit: 220,000-330,000 pounds (100-150 tons)
Maximum payload into lunar orbit: 220,000 pounds (100 tons)
solid fuel: N / A
Liquid fuel: oxygen and methane
Engines: Powered by around 32 Raptor engines
Crew Module: Spaceship (ultimately capable of carrying up to 100 passengers)
Building-costs: Approximately $3 billion (£2.4 billion) in terms of overall development
Price per launch: Ultimately, around $2 million ($1.7 million), according to Musk
Where will it start from? Probably the starbase near Boca Chica, Texas. But possibly Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
Total launches: 0
The mission, which will send Starship around the world before landing in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, will be an early milestone in Musk’s ambitions for the spacecraft to one day carry people and cargo to the moon and Mars.
NASA reckons Starship will be taking astronauts to the lunar surface in a few years, while Musk later plans to use the mammoth spacecraft to send large numbers of people to the Red Planet.
Musk said SpaceX is ready to launch Starship into orbit from the company’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, once it receives a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
That could come in the next few weeks.
In January, the rocket and its escort vehicle reached a major milestone after being refueled and fully stacked for the first time in what has been dubbed a “wet dress rehearsal.”
Altogether, Starship towers 120 m, making it the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.
It’s capable of generating 17 million pounds of launch thrust, nearly double that of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) mega-lunar rocket, which sent an empty capsule to the moon and back late last year.
No starship is currently capable of sending humans to the Red Planet – but all of that could change as Starship develops.
His creation is part of Musk’s larger vision to create us a “multiplanetary species” by first establishing a human colony on Mars and even building cities.
That may seem ambitious, but the tech supremo’s long-term goal for Starship is to potentially take humans to destinations in the “greater solar system,” including gas giants like Jupiter or one of its potentially habitable moons.
The thought is that if there were ever to be a global apocalypse on Earth, humanity would have a better chance of multiple if humans lived on different worlds in our solar system.
spaceship will be able to carry up to 100 people to the Red Planet in a journey 250 times farther than the moon and would take around nine months each.
Musk and SpaceX have remained silent on many details about Starship, including images of what the interior will look like, but the 51-year-old has previously said he is laround 40 cabins in the payload area in the front area of the upper stage are planned.
“You could imagine having five or six people per cabin if you really wanted to squeeze people in,” added the Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter boss.
“But I think most of the time we would expect to see two or three people per cabin, so nominally about 100 people per flight to Mars.”
However, the surface of Mars is not the only target for Starship.
In April 2021, NASA announced that it had selected SpaceX’s next-generation vehicle as the first manned lunar lander for its Artemis III mission – to put the first woman and first black person on the moon in 2025.
The Starship HLS – or Starship Human Landing System – will feature SpaceX Raptor engines while also taking inspiration from the designs of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles.
It will feature a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks.
However, 2025 will not be the first moon landing of the HLS spacecraft. That’s because NASA wants the craft to make a test landing without screws before it returns human boots to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
The other uses for Starship are launching satellites into low earth orbits and possibly conducting space tourism trips.
HOW WILL STARSHIP WORK, IS IT THE MOST POWERFUL ROCKET EVER AND WHERE WILL IT LAUNCH?
How spaceship works
Starship is said to be SpaceX’s first fully reusable rocket, which is one reason Musk’s vehicle could fly 200 times cheaper per launch than most other rockets.
How will it work?
When ready to land on Earth, Starship will first re-enter the atmosphere at a 60 degree angle before falling in a horizontal position, belly to the ground.
This type of return uses our planet’s atmosphere to slow the vehicle’s descent, but makes it unstable.
For this reason, Starship will use four steel landing flaps positioned near the front and rear of the vehicle to control its descent, functioning in a similar way to how a skydiver uses his arms and legs to free fall steer.
As Starship nears the ground, it returns to a vertical position and then uses its Raptor engines as retro-missiles to guide it down for a safe landing.
In November 2019, Musk claimed that a Starship launch could cost as little as $2million (£1.8million) each time, thanks to the efficiency savings of reusing a rocket.
For comparison, NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is estimated to cost a staggering $4.1 billion (£3.3 billion) per launch.
Where will Starship launch?
Starship is expected to launch from the Starbase facility in Texas near the town of Boca Chica.
However, SpaceX first needs a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can take off.
Musk has also previously said the ship could lift off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is currently being used by SpaceX for its Falcon series of rockets.
This was the launch pad from which Apollo 11 took off on its legendary mission to the moon in July 1969.
Is it the biggest rocket ever?
Yes. And not only that, it’s also the strongest.
Musk’s vehicle has a thrust of 16 million pounds (70 meganewtons), which is almost double that of the other new-generation rocket being developed by NASA, known as the SLS.
You may remember SLS for successfully launching the Orion spacecraft into orbit last November as part of the Artemis I mission, during which it flew around the moon and back.
The spacecraft is 120 m (395 ft) tall, with the ship itself measuring 49 m (164 ft) and the booster 70 m (230 ft).
No wonder, but SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket and accompanying Starship spacecraft are, well, heavy.
The whole comes to 11 million pounds (5 million kg) when fueled.