Starship, SpaceX’s giant reusable rocket that’s currently under development, is expected to get a big update this week. On Thursday, CEO Elon Musk will outline the company’s latest progress on the fully-reusable ship — and a photo ahead of the event shows viewers will likely get a close-up view of a fully-stacked Starship.
“Starship aspires to be the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle, the holy grail of rocketry,” Musk wrote on his Twitter page ahead of the event. “This is the critical breakthrough needed to make life multi-planetary.”
Musk first announced plans for the ship, under the name BFR, at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, back in September 2017, but he didn’t disclose the first full-size prototype until September 2019.
SpaceX says it plans to send the ship on its first orbital flight later this year. And from there, the company has grandiose plans to send the first humans to Mars sometime in the 2020s, and establish a city on Mars by 2050, though that’s all extremely theoretical for now.
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The ship should have a lot going for it if SpaceX can pull it off. The ship is capable of sending over 100 tons or 100 people to space at a time, a marked improvement over the Falcon 9 that can launch just a quarter of that at a time. It’s also fully reusable, unlike the partially-reusable Falcon 9 that has an expendable second stage.
The Starship uses liquid oxygen and methane as fuel, unlike the rocket propellant used by the Falcon 9. That means, in theory, astronauts can fly to Mars, refuel using the planet’s resources, and either return home or venture out further.
The ship is moved into position using the “Mechazilla” tower, which will help SpaceX turn the ship around for reuse in rapid time.
SpaceX Starship: What will Elon Musk announce?
It’s unclear at this stage, but we could hear more information about the planned orbital flight.
Musk suggested in August 2021 that the ship could be ready for flight “in a few weeks, pending only regulatory approval.”
That regulatory approval would end up taking longer than expected. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently conducting an environmental assessment of the launch area in Texas.
A draft assessment was released in September, which started a 30-day comment process where members of the public could have their input. A final assessment was expected at the end of 2021, but just a few days before the end of the year the FAA announced it would now release the final document on February 28, 2022.
But even if SpaceX does get the final approval, Ars Technica notes that may not mean the ship will launch this year. Rumors suggest the company may skip an orbital flight this year, due to technical issues with the ship’s Raptor engines.
This jives with previous reports that SpaceX faces a large-scale Raptor production crisis. In December 2021, Musk wrote in an email that SpaceX needed to recover from a production “disaster.”
SpaceX Starship: When will the event take place?
The live event will take place at these times:
- Friday, 1 p.m. Australian Eastern time
- Friday, 2 a.m. Greenwich Mean time
- Thursday, 9 p.m. Eastern time
- Thursday, 8 p.m. Central time
- Thursday, 6 p.m. Pacific time
SpaceX hasn’t mentioned whether it will stream the event live on its website, but there’s a good chance it might.
THE STARSHIP’S JOURNEY, SUMMARIZED:
- November 2018 — BFR, first announced in September 2017, gets renamed to Starship
- December 2018 — Musk confirms the new ship has switched to stainless steel
- January 2019 — Shortened “Starhopper” prototype unveiled and Musk explains the switch to steel
- February 2019 — Raptor engine beats a long-standing rocket record
- April 2019 — Starhopper completes a tethered “hop”
- July 2019 — Starhopper launches 20 meters (67 feet)
- August 2019 — Starhopper launches 150 meters (500 feet)
- September 2019 — Starship Mk.1 full-size prototype unveiled
- May 2020 — Starship SN4 full-size prototype completes a static test fire
- August 2020 — SN5 launches 150 meters (500 feet)
- October 2020 — SN8 completes the first triple-Raptor static fire
- December 2020 — SN8 launches 12.5 kilometers (41,000 feet) and crashes into the ground
- February 2021 — SN9 launches 10 kilometers (33,000 feet) and crashes into the ground
- March 2021 — SN10 launches 10 kilometers (33,000 feet), lands, and explodes eight minutes later. That same month, SN11 launches 10 kilometers (33,000 feet) and hits the ground in several pieces.
- May 2021 — SN15 launches 10 kilometers (33,000 feet) and lands without a hitch, except for a small fire at the base
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