The highly anticipated first orbital test flight of the SpaceXStarship spacecraft and Super Heavy booster could come as early as late October, according to CEO Elon Musk, although he noted November was more likely.
In a post on the social media website Twitter on Wednesday, Musk responded to a question from another user to say the company would have two Starship craft and two boosters to work with by November.
Starship is a huge, reusable top stage of a rocket and spacecraft that, according to Musk’s many public statements about the vehicle, is designed as a means of colonizing Mars, one compliment from 100 people at a time. The 160m high Starship is designed to sit on top of the 230m high Super Heavy Booster, which is also reusable.
Together, the Super Heavy and the Starship make up the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever built, more powerful even than the current version of NASA’s massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which itself is on the cusp of a major first test flight.
While SLS will generate 8 million pounds of thrust and lift 95 tons of payload to low Earth orbit, Starship and the Super Heavy will generate 12 million pounds of thrust and lift more than 100 tons into low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX. .
But so far, Starship vehicles have only flown to low altitudes of about 40,000 feet over the Texas desert, launched from SpaceX’s “Starbase” facility in Boca Chica.
While NASA hopes to launch a test flight of its SLS rocket by Sept. 27 and send the space agency’s Orion space capsule around the moon before it crashes into the Pacific Ocean under parachutes, SpaceX plans to put Starship into orbit. Earth and a controlled, powered landing somewhere near Hawaii.
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Whether either large missile will fly as intended, however, is still an open question.
While NASA canceled two SLS launches in the past month due to technical challenges, SpaceX has been hampered by regulatory compliance issues and an environmental assessment — Musk predicted an orbital test flight for Starship sometime in March early February 2022.
But in June, the U.S. FAA made a final decision in its environmental assessment of SpaceX’s launch operations at its Texas facility. That assessment was the main non-technical hurdle to a test flight of a Starship orbital, and the FAA gave SpaceX the go-ahead in June, on the condition that the company also take 75 measures to reduce the environmental impact outlined by the FAA. .
Although NASA and SpaceX have both built very large rockets, they are not in direct competition. NASA contracts with SpaceX to provide services such as flying crew and cargo to the International Space Station with the company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft.
So NASA has good reason to hope for a successful Starship flight, as the space agency SpaceX has also contracted to create a modified version of the Starship spacecraft to act as a lunar lander, the vehicle intended to transport human astronauts. to the surface of the moon for NASA’s Artemis III mission in 2025.