Elon Musk has promised the first orbital flight ‘this year’ for his Starship mega-rocket

SpaceX boss Elon Musk on Thursday night detailed the latest technical advances to his giant Starship rocket, which is set to reach space for the first time “this year”, without announcing new mission plans or a specific that date. for this first orbital flight.

The billionaire speaks from the company’s space base, named Starbase and located in the far south of Texas. Here was formed this amazing rocket for travel between planets, especially to Mars.

The event is of particular importance because this vehicle was chosen by NASA to be the one that will take the next astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

In front of an audience of guests and journalists, Elon Musk announced no -nonsense surprises in a speech that lasts more than an hour, but is eagerly awaited by space enthusiasts. The only real new thing: he confirmed that SpaceX is building a launch tower for the Starship at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have already been launched.

The boss listed the first projects awaiting Starship: satellite launches and missions to the Moon, including a private project with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

Mr Musk indicated that more missions would soon be announced. “There will be announcements in the future that I think will make people happy,” he said.

Move to Florida

As a backdrop, the Starship – completely black – is mounted on its silver propellant, the first stage of the rocket, named Super Heavy.

The engine is 120 meters high, 9 meters in diameter and can carry about 100 tons into orbit.

This launcher never flew in this complete configuration (also called Starship for short), with its two stages.

Elon Musk promised the first orbital test for January or February 2022. But the deadline has been passed.

The company is waiting for the green light from the American aviation authority (FAA), which must first study the environmental impacts of the operations. A decision must be paid by the end of February.

“I’m hoping we’ll have this permission,” Elon Musk said.

But SpaceX is still preparing to move its operations to Florida if necessary. Starbase will be dedicated to research and development.

“In the worst case, we will be delayed by six to eight months to build the launch tower at Cap (Canaveral), and take off from there,” the boss assured, accustomed to very optimistic schedule announcements.

“I’m very confident that we’re going to go into orbit this year,” he said.

Price reductions

Starship alone has already made some suborbital flights: after several trials ending in spectacular explosions at the end of 2020 and in 2021, SpaceX was finally able to land the ship. But he only got about 10 km above sea level.

NASA chose to bet on Starship to be the lander used as part of its Artemis program to return to the Moon.

A version of the spacecraft would have to be placed upstream in orbit around the Moon and the astronauts coming aboard their capsule (recruited separately by a rocket) would board it to take them to it and return them from the surface of the months, in 2025 earlier.

To complete the journey, the lander must first be refueled directly into space, in near Earth orbit, by other Starship ships that have arrived to refuel it. An extremely dangerous move that Elon Musk said he wanted to try over the next two years.

The great new thing of this device is that it must be fully reusable: not only the Starship, but also the Super Heavy, must be recovered after each flight.

This is Elon Musk’s grand strategy to cut prices.

Each flight costs only “a few million dollars”, in any case “less than ten million”, he assured, against dozens for the Falcon 9 currently and that has been partially recovered on Earth.

A must, because the billionaire estimates that humans will need hundreds of Starship rockets to one day become a multi-planetary species, to inhabit Mars.

This “life insurance” for humanity is, according to him, important, because of the threats hanging here on our Earth alone.

“Starship has the ability to do this, carry a million tons to the surface of Mars and create a self-sustaining city,” he said. And “I think we should do it as soon as possible.»

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