“Let’s make this real,” Elon Musk said to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters on Thursday night after watching a dramatic animation depicting a future Starship mission to a city on Mars.
The SpaceX boss was giving the first public update in two years on the progress of the company’s next-generation space transportation system that’s already part of NASA’s plans for a crewed lunar landing, and yes, could one day carry humans to Mars, too.
The presentation (below) took place at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, with the Starship rocket — comprising the extremely powerful Super Heavy first stage and the Starship second stage — forming a dramatic backdrop for the event.
Musk admitted that “there’ll probably be a few bumps in the road” for the project, but said that with the right preparation and plenty of test flights, SpaceX can create something that’s “extremely reliable for human spaceflight.” And having already achieved success with its Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft system, which now carries astronauts to and from the International Space Station, there’s every possibility SpaceX can go all the way with Starship, too.
Musk said he hopes to send Starship on its first orbital test flight next month, though hitting that target date depends on the outcome of an environmental assessment being conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). If the FAA fails to give permission to launch from Boca Chica, Musk said the test flight would likely be delayed for several months as the hardware would have to be moved to a launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, around a 1,000 miles to the east. Either way, Musk said he was “highly confident” of sending Starship on its first orbital flight this year.
Thursday’s event also included a dramatic animation imagining what a future Starship launch to Mars could look like. You can watch it below:
Starship will be the most powerful rocket ever launched when the 120-meter-tall (394 feet) vehicle finally gets off the ground. Its thrust capability of 72 meganewtons will be just over twice that of the Saturn V vehicle that powered astronauts toward the moon five decades ago.
As the video shows, both stages are designed to land and be used again, a feat SpaceX has already achieved with the first stage of its smaller Falcon 9 rocket. Such a system dramatically reduces the cost of space travel that could pave the way for more ambitious missions.
SpaceX’s immediate goal is to use Starship for crewed moon and Mars landings. A crewed fly-around of the moon could also take place in the next few years. NASA has already asked SpaceX to create a lunar lander version of Starship, called Starship HLS, for its upcoming Artemis III mission that will put the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the moon, possibly in 2025.
Musk believes that if he can make a success of Starship, it could be a major step toward his grand ambition of making life interplanetary, something earthlings have no choice but to achieve if human civilization is to continue. Musk’s plan may sound crazy, and he won’t be around long enough to see it happen in any meaningful way, but he’s laying the groundwork and inspiring people to work toward, as he likes to say, “making science-fiction not fiction forever.”
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