Much is riding on successfully testing SpaceX’s Starship—including multiple NASA missions and the future of private space.
- On April 20, 2023, SpaceX did the first fully integrated launch of its reusable heavy-lifting vehicle and Starship capsule.
- The largest rocket in history successfully lifted off of the pad and flew for three minutes and 59 seconds before multiple engines stopped functioning and the self-destruct sequence was activated.
- The launch also severely damaged the reinforced concrete launchpad at Starbase in Brownsville, Texas, necessitating months of repairs.
- Now, SpaceX announces that the second unmanned test flight will occur within six to eight weeks, potentially seeing a launch before the end of the summer.
Why It’s Important
Multiple agencies and clients are already waiting for a successful test launch of Starship to move forward on larger projects, but human-rated spaceflight is still a ways off. The Falcon 9, with its Dragon capsule, took a decade before NASA approved it to launch humans to the space station. However, Starship is already contracted to begin human space flights within the next five years.
NASA contracted SpaceX last year to use a Starship as part of the Artemis IV moon landing mission, scheduled to launch as early as September 2028. NASA intends to land astronauts on the moon with Starship concurrently, its proprietary Space Launch System vehicle. NASA administrators have already expressed concern that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s other commitments to Twitter and Tesla are distracting him and slowing down Starship development. Starship is also scheduled to launch several private flights, with the first having been tentatively booked for later this year.
Backing Up A Bit
The failure of the first Starship launch, despite drawing much media and social media scrutiny, did not phase SpaceX too negatively. In an April 30 Twitter space, Musk subsequently announced that the self-destruct was “roughly what I expected,” even going as far as to say the launch exceeded expectations. As a rule, no first-time rocket launch has ever succeeded. Musk says the launch helped gather vital data and praised his crew’s work. The second launch will already be using an upgraded version of the vehicles, which could produce better results.
SpaceX has revolutionized space travel with its reusable Falcon 9 rockets, successfully launching 238 missions into orbit to deliver satellites or shuffle astronauts to-and-from the international space station at a fraction of the cost of NASA’s space shuttle. Each launch only costs $67 million, thanks to the rocket being fully reusable. Starship stands to further revolutionize space by allowing for regular reusable shipments of 150 tonnes per launch to be carried into outer space, potentially carrying astronauts as far as Mars in future missions.