SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, begins launch tests on Thursday in preparation for journeys to the moon and Mars.
Gwynne Shotwell, president, and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said Wednesday that the company is about to conduct a historic test of its Starship launch system.
Thursday, SpaceX will conduct a full “static fire” test, in which all 33 Raptor 2 engines on the Super Heavy rocket will be ignited simultaneously. If the test goes well, SpaceX may try the maiden orbital launch of Starship within the following month.
The announcement comes a little over two weeks after Starship’s wet dress rehearsal.
The wet dress refers to a vital series of prelaunch tests that involved putting fuel into both the upper stage and the rocket and running through the countdown to roughly T-10 seconds.
The static fire test is the company’s final significant milestone before Starship can fly – that, and a launch license from the United States Federal Aviation Administration, which has yet to be issued.
The orbital flight test, according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, and reiterated in Shotwell’s statements today, will be just the beginning.
Musk is well-known for his plans to spread human civilisation throughout the Solar System, and Shotwell estimated that the business may put people on Mars around 2030, although she added that the company could need to make hundreds of Starship missions before carrying people into orbit.
According to federal papers, the mammoth booster will separate around three minutes after liftoff and land in the Gulf of Mexico during the test flight.
The ship will orbit the Earth at an altitude of more than 150 miles before crashing into the sea off the coast of Hawaii.
This will be a critical demonstration of the hardware on which NASA is relying to return humans to the moon in the coming years. If successful, Musk will be one step closer to accomplishing his personal dream of establishing a metropolis on Mars.
Starship is a super-heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft designed to transport massive cargo and a large number of astronauts into deep space.
The 400-foot-tall stainless steel tower towers over NASA’s rocket, the Space Launch System.
It would take around five billboards placed on top of the latter to equal Musk’s space spacecraft. SpaceX claims its rocket has roughly twice the thrust.
The rocket is constructed of stainless steel, a material Musk favors due to its low cost. This beast is powered by 10 million pounds of liquid methane and oxygen, as opposed to NASA’s mammoth moon rocket, which is powered by super-chilled liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
The new fuel can be kept at lower temperatures than liquid hydrogen, requiring less insulation and being less prone to leaks, a problem that frequently stymies NASA missions.
“It’s a very hard thing to do,” he said. “It’s only barely possible with the physics of Earth.”
NASA intends to put men on the moon using Starships during Artemis III and IV, two planned missions that might launch as early as 2025 and 2027, respectively.
The space agency has awarded a $4 billion contract to SpaceX to create a human landing system version of Starship. As part of the agreement, the business must first demonstrate an unmanned test mission to the moon.
Starship will transport astronauts from NASA’s Orion spaceship to the lunar south pole and back during Artemis III. However, Starship is expected to dock with a moon-orbiting space station, the yet-to-be-built Gateway, and ferry astronauts back and forth to the moon in the fourth voyage.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters in December that SpaceX appears to be on track with the contract and plans to conduct an unmanned moon landing by the end of the year.
That mission would be followed by an astronaut landing in late 2024.
“Slips are always possible because it’s a brand new system,” Nelson explained. “But they have been quite impressive with what they have done with other systems.”
That’s a tall task since SpaceX has a contract to place humans on the moon using a modified Starship landing mechanism before the end of the decade.
NASA later increased the value of the $2.9 billion contract by $1.15 billion for a second crewed Starship trip.
She claims that SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to manufacture a Starship rocket every day, which is integrated into the company’s design.
Shotwell made his remarks at a fireside chat at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation conference.
She also talked about SpaceX’s Starlink internet broadband service, which made headlines last year for its involvement in assisting Ukraine with the war against Russia.
Regardless of what function Starlink played, Shotwell stated that the service was not intended to be used as a weapon.
The service is still an important aspect of Ukraine’s military effort; Musk stated at the end of January that Starlink “has become Ukraine’s connectivity backbone all the way up to the front lines.”