SpaceX is preparing to launch its Starship mega-rocket into orbit for the first time, launching CEO Elon Musk’s ambitious plan to eventually establish an independent human settlement on Mars.
Musk has said SpaceX is ready to launch Starship from its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas — an area the company calls “Starbase” — once it receives a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
As with any first launch, however, a small glitch in the rocket’s complicated hardware or software engineering can easily cause everything to go wrong.
In an interview at the Morgan-Stanley conference on March 7, Musk said the rocket had a 1 in 2 chance of not making orbit.
“I’m not saying it’s going to orbit, but I guarantee excitement,” he said, adding, “It won’t get boring!”
“I think it has, I don’t know, hopefully a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit,” Musk said, adding that SpaceX is building multiple Starship rockets and that overall there’s an 80 percent chance that one of them reached orbit this year.
If the history of Starship’s suborbital test flights tells us anything, it’s that failure to reach orbit could mean the rocket explodes.
The spaceship has exploded before, but its future may be bright
If successful, the launch will be the world’s first fully reusable orbital rocket and set the stage for SpaceX to revolutionize the orbital economy.
The spaceship and its 230ft high booster Super Heavy are both designed to land back on Earth to fly again another day.
That’s a big economy measure, since SpaceX wouldn’t have to build a new upper stage for every rocket launch. Starship is also designed to carry huge payloads into space, up to 250 tons of payload into orbit, up to 150 tons if the rocket is to be reused, according to the SpaceX website.
This would increase efficiency to make it cheaper to send satellites, spacecraft, cargo and people into Earth orbit and beyond to the Moon and Mars.
Starship’s promise of reusability and sheer flight performance has made it attractive to NASA, which chose the vehicle to land its astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972. The agency aims to achieve that historic moon landing in the mid-2020s.
First, however, Starship must orbit the Earth and return safely. Two years ago, SpaceX conducted a series of test flights, launching prototype Starships six miles into the air over Boca Chica.
The first four exploded, and only one held the landing before it exploded.
Finally, the fifth Starship prototype thundered 33,000 feet into the air, shut down its engines to plummet back to Earth, then fired them up just in time to right itself and descend gently onto the landing pad.
Starship has not flown since. Its first attempt to fly into orbit will be its largest test yet.
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