SpaceX is a company with a million and one things to worry about and handle. However, the company always manages to get things done, especially in an industry that is becoming more and more competitive.
With several of its top rivals - including Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic - making significant milestones this month and sending people to space, SpaceX needs something of a win - if not for anything, to remind people that it is the leader in the private aerospace industry.
Liftoff for the Starship
Now, SpaceX seems to have made a big win with its Starship project. According to reports from last month, the aerospace company is working towards launching the first orbital flight for its Starship rocket in July.
Speaking at a virtual keynote during the Mobile World Congress last month, Musk explained that SpaceX had made significant progress with testing the starship for orbital flight. They believe that the next step will be to make the big rocket fly.
"We're hoping to do our first orbital launch attempt in the next few months. We certainly will have a booster and a ship, an orbital capable booster and orbital capable ship, and the orbital launch site will be ready within the next month or so," the billionaire confirmed.
Prototypes for Starship are currently about 160 feet tall - around the size of a 16-story building. The prototypes are also built of stainless steel, in line with a version that Musk unveiled about two years ago. The rocket will launch on a “Super Heavy'' booster, which makes up its bottom half and is about 230 feet tall. Combined, the Super Heavy and the Starship will be about 400 feet tall when they’re stacked in a launch sequence.
The company is currently constructing the booster, ship, and launch site at its sprawling facility in Boca Chica, Texas - an area that Musk hopes can be renamed “Starbase” soon enough.
Tests Already Went In
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, also said at the National Space Society’s virtual International Space Development conference that the company is incredibly close to making a Starship flight happen. Such a milestone will put SpaceX in a pole position to send its rocket to Mars - beginning Musk’s vision to make humanity a multi-planetary species.
SpaceX has been working on bringing the Starship into orbit for a while now. Previous attempts to get the craft 10 km above the ground have all ended in explosions, but they finally made a breakthrough on May 5 as the SN15 got up and stuck its landing.
Of course, just tests won’t be enough to give SpaceX the confidence it needs to finally launch the Starship. The company has a lot riding on this craft, which is designed to carry people and cargo to missions on Mars and the moon.
Starship is also designed to be fully reusable - unlike other rockets like the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9. Musk believes that the Starship can essentially be like a commercial aircraft, optimizing its functionality enough that the only issue it would face will be fuel usage.
As Shotwell explained in her speech, SpaceX is looking to scale up its timeline and develop Starship. This is in line with Musk’s vision to create a self-sustaining system that can get people to Mars and the moon - and back.
July Might Not be Possible
Of course, all of these timelines were made last month. With July here now, it seems less likely that SpaceX will be able to launch the Starship. Recently, SpaceX filed with the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to add Starlink terminals to Starshi during the first orbital flight. Most notably, the company requested a period between August 1st and October 1st.
An earlier filing also showed details of SpaceX’s plans for the first Starship trip to space. When it launches, the prototype - most likely SN20 -will exit the planet’s atmosphere and re-enter on its first orbit. It will attempt a soft landing off the Hawaiian island’s coast in the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, the Super Heavy will attempt to re-enter and land at the Texas facility.
Now, there’s still a possibility that the Starship does something before August comes along. SpaceX is reportedly getting the SN20 ready for its trip to Hawaii, but the SN16 is still being built at Boca Chica. Musk has teased the possibility of using the SN16 as a hypersonic flight test.