SpaceX has continued to blaze the trail for private space companies worldwide, vying for contracts and proving that humanity's dream to dominate the stars is still valid.
In its mission to revolutionize space travel, SpaceX has been resting different shuttle variants to see which could work best and provide better functionality. Recently, the company made a significant milestone with the Super Heavy rocket booster.
Super Heavy Takes Shape
Last week, Elon Musk, the space company's founder and chief executive, confirmed in a tweet that it had completed the "stacking" of its first Super Heavy prototype. The rocket, known as the Super Heavy Booster, will be a next-generation vehicle that SpaceX hopes to help propel its rockets into orbit and possibly even beyond.
According to accounts, the Super Heavy Booster will be about 220 feet tall. That is about the same size as the famous Cinderella Castle at Florida's Walt Disney Resort. It is with noting that this size is for the Booster alone - it doesn't account for the Starship that will go on top and add another 160 feet to it. SpaceX will test the Super Heavy Booster before flying it with the Starship. The company is primarily looking to see if the former's full tanks can handle the temperatures and pressure levels required to keep itself stable before a flight.
The Super Heavy will also use the same Raptor engines as the Starship. The vehicle's final version will come with 28 Raptor engines, although the company is still going with fewer engines for its prototype. For now, the rocket will remain grounded as SpaceX is taking tests much more seriously this time.
SpaceX plans to use the Super Heavy Booster and the Starship to get deliveries and people to Mars. It will also aim towards the moon and other cosmic destinations. The two vehicles will be reusable, according to previous statements from Musk.
The Super Heavy will be designed to offer short flights and return to the Earth via a vertical landing. SpaceX already showed progress with this mechanism with the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9 ships' first stages. As for the Starship, it will be strong enough to make several trips to and from the moon and Mars.
While the Starship will be powerful enough to launch itself off these bodies, it will need help and stability from the Super Heavy to get off the Earth, which has a larger size than the moon and Mars.
SpaceX plans to get the two jets flying soon, with Musk hoping to get the Starship into orbit sometime this year. Speaking on The Joe Rogan Experience last month, Musk pointed out that he believes the Super Heavy and Starship will get into operational flights by 2023.
In fact, the space company is wasting no time to get its flights up and running. It already has a mission on the books for the Starship, with a target launch date sometime in 2023. Tagged the "dearMoon" flight, the mission aims to take crewmembers around the moon. The mission will be run along with Japanese billionaire and controversial businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who has been touting it all over social media.
Other SpaceX Plans Moving Ahead
While SpaceX continues to tout the Super Heavy, the company has also been doing work with the Starlink internet project.
This week, the firm launched another set of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit on a Falcon 9 shuttle from its Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The mission was a milestone, marking the 25th Starlink flight that SpaceX has undertaken.
The launch on Wednesday was the overall 120th launch of a Falcon rocket from SpaceX. It came 15 years after the company's first Falcon 1 launch, which ended in a disaster after the rocket exploded mid-air. So far, SpaceX has launched 87 straight successful missions with the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Save for an accident in September 2016, the company has hit 96 Falcon launches in a row.
The next Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for early April, with another set of Starlink satellites going into orbit.
Wednesday's launch marked the 1,385th Starlink satellite that SpaceX has launched into orbit. Some of these satellites were prototypes, and they have burned up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. However, sources still believe that there are about 1,260 satellites in space.
Many believe that the Starlink network could end up with over 10,000 satellites. SpaceX already has approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 12,000 satellites at different inclinations and altitudes. With the low-altitude satellites, users will be able to get low-latency, high-speed internet. The satellites will also help ensure that spacecraft can naturally re-enter the atmosphere much faster.
Starlink already provides beta internet services across several regions, including England, the United States, and Canada. By launching more satellites, SpaceX hopes to offer more internet connections to broader areas.
SpaceX is also gearing up for a contract with several other space giants in a NASA program. NASA already selected the companies to provide a human landing system for its Artemis moon missions. SpaceX was shortlisted, as well as Blue Origin and Dynetics. For now, the goal is to get the systems in place for a launch in 2024. NASA primarily selected the Starship to act as a lander for the mission, so SpaceX might as well have the most involvement of all chosen firms.