Elon Musk Lays Out SpaceX's Starship Plans for 2022

SpaceX was the clear and undisputed leader of the private aerospace industry in 2021. Thanks to its innovative ability and deep relationship with the government, the company has made some significant moves.

Elon Musk Lays Out SpaceX's Starship Plans for 2022

With a new year approaching, the company's top brass is now outlining how they hope to make even more improvements.

Ready to Let Starship Loose

A few days back, SpaceX chief executive and founder Elon Musk spoke at a joint conference organized by the National Academies' Space Studies Board and the Board on Physics and Astronomy. The billionaire explained SpaceX is working round the clock to launch the new Starship by the start of 2022.

Musk pointed out that the Starship's first orbital flight should take place sometime in January - pending regulatory approval and clearance of a few additional obstacles. According to Musk, if the first flight is successful, SpaceX plans to ramp up the number of flights and schedule more in 2022.

According to SpaceX's regulatory filings, Starship's test flight vehicle is expected to complete less than a single orbit before coming back to Earth - potentially setting down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Kauai.

Musk said engineers have completed assembly of both Starship and SpaceX's famous Super Heavy booster, which will transport the Starship vehicle into space. All that remains is to finish the launch tower and pad, plus run several tests in December.

Starship is one of the most important products to come out of SpaceX - perhaps the most significant since the Falcon 9. The entire structure, including the Starship vehicle and the Super Heavy booster, should be a staggering 394 feet when fully stacked. By comparison, NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System measures 322 feet. Starship could potentially launch over 100 tons into space repeatedly, Musk calling it a "transport system mechanism for the greater solar system."

Development for Starship has been swift. SpaceX flew the vehicle's 15th prototype into space back in May, hitting 30,000 feet before returning to Earth. The company has something to work with as it gears up for the first orbital flight.

Keeping Expectations Low AMid Challenges

Musk warned he isn't putting much hope into the first launch - given that it's the first. Instead, SpaceX will focus on fine-tuning the launch and performance in orbit. Though there's a small probability that Starship will reach orbit in its first flight, Musk is confident it will happen sometime in 2022. With the company already anticipating a high rate of flights in the new year, success the first time around would be a huge boost to operations.

Speaking of challenges, Musk pointed out that SpaceX is still having issues with engine build rates. Starship on its own will require up to six Raptor engines, while the Super Heavy booster will need between 29 and 33. SpaceX is building a factory in Texas to handle Raptor engine productions.

All total, SpaceX is aiming to launch up to 12 Starship flights in 2022. If the company can recover the vehicle and reuse some of its parts (especially the engines), it should kick off operational missions within two years. Musk said in part:

"We intend to complete the test flight program next year, which means that it's probably ready for valuable payloads — not for testing, basically, but actual real payloads — in 2023. So quite soon."

Besides engine manufacturing issues, SpaceX also faces regulatory hurdles. The company's Starbase launch facilities in Texas are currently under environmental checks, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claiming it should conclude all checks by December 31. Until that happens, no launches can take place at Starbase.

Musk is also looking towards the start of sales for Starship launches. SpaceX hopes to sell Starship launches in 2023, prices being much lower than those currently assigned to Falcon 9 rocket launches.


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