Starship, SpaceX’s under-development rocket, has completed a high-altitude flight without exploding — and now it’s taking on an even bigger challenge.
On May 13, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed via Twitter that the company plans to send its ship “3/4 of the way around the Earth,” in an ambitious orbital flight that will lift off from Texas and will eventually land near Hawaii. A document from the Federal Communications Commission gives more details of what the historic flight may actually entail.
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This dramatic render shows Starship and Super Heavy launching on a cloudy day. SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk hopes to have a launch platform in the Gulf of Mexico ready for Starship. SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Eisenhorn Omnibus Pdf Free Download, Sacred Time: A Novel Ursula Hegi, Happiness And Poverty In Developing Countries: A Global Perspective C. Yap, The Anatomy Of The Honey Bee R.
On May 18, Musk also shared a new photo of a “Starbase” sign, the name for the Texas location set to host the orbital flight launch:
It’s all building toward the biggest test yet for SpaceX’s ship.
The Starship is an under-development, fully-reusable rocket. Musk unveiled its predecessor, the BFR, at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, back in September 2017. Musk suggested at the event that the BFR could fly to Mars as early as 2022, a goal that Spacex is almost guaranteed to miss at this stage even with Starship so close to completion.
Starship is designed to send over 150 tons or 100 people into space at a time. It’s meant to replace all of SpaceX’s existing rockets, including the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9, which means it will also launch satellites for the company’s third-party clients.
It could also launch Starlink satellites, as part of the firm’s emerging internet connectivity constellation. A June 2020 render shows how, while the Falcon 9 currently launches up to 60 Starlink satellites at a time, the Starship could pack 240 at once.
But the Starship’s most enticing feature is perhaps its ability to transport humans to Mars and beyond. Unlike Falcon 9, which uses rocket propellant as its fuel, the Starship is designed to use liquid oxygen and methane as fuel.
This means astronauts could potentially fly to Mars, harvest more fuel from the planet’s resources, and either fly home or venture out further. Musk’s goal is to send the first humans to Mars in the mid-2020s, before establishing the first city on Mars by 2050.
The ship will also power other missions, like a planned trip around the Moon involving Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and eight competition winners.
The Starship will use a booster dubbed the Super Heavy to leave the Earth. Paired together, the full construction measures around 400 feet tall.
SpaceX plans to send a prototype model of the Starship on its first orbital flight in the coming months, an important step toward those flights to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The goal of the flight will be to collect data about how the ship works during a flight, information the firm claims would be “extremely difficult to accurately predict or replicate computationally.”
The Starship will take off from Starbase, Texas. Just under two minutes after liftoff, at 171 seconds, the Super Heavy booster will separate from the ship. That booster will then land in the Gulf of Mexico, around 20 miles from the shore, just over eight minutes after launch at 495 seconds.
The ship itself will continue on its journey to reach orbit. This is the launch plan for the ship itself:
It will then complete a targeted powered landing off the coast of Hawaii, landing softly into the ocean. The ship will come to a stop around 60 miles northwest of the coast of Kauai.
The flight will end around 90 minutes after liftoff, at 5,420 seconds.
The location is a specific choice, Musk says.
“We need to make sure ship won’t break up on reentry, hence deorbit over Pacific,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
An orbital flight has been a big goal for Musk for years, but now it might actually be within his reach. At a September 2019 event, Musk claimed the firm was aiming for an orbital flight within a matter of months — obviously, that didn’t happen.
The firm’s application to the Federal Communication Commission outlines a requested period of operation, beginning on June 20, 2021, and ending on December 20, 2021. That gives SpaceX a six-month window to make the flight happen. The window opens around one month from now, so it could be mere weeks before SpaceX could hold the orbital flight.
Musk, in classic fashion, has an ambitious timeline for the next steps.
In an April 2021 news conference, Musk discussed the firm’s planned partnership with NASA. The deal, which is now in question after an outcry from competitors, would see SpaceX use the Starship as a human lander for NASA’s Artemis missions that will return humans to the Moon.
“I think 2024 seems likely,' Musk said during the event. 'We're gonna aim for sooner than that.”
A flight in 2023 would be a quick turnaround time. SpaceX’s first successful flight of the Falcon 9 v1.0 was in June 2010, and its first non-test mission was the first Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA in October 2012.
As NASA’s stated goal is to land humans on the Moon in 2024, the pressure is on for a successful orbital flight to happen this year.
THE STARSHIP’S JOURNEY, SUMMARIZED:
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WASHINGTON — SpaceX has disclosed details for the first orbital test flight of its next-generation Starship launch system, but the company is still far short of the regulatory approvals needed for the mission.
SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission May 13 for special temporary authority for communications required to support a Starship test launch from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, test site. The license would cover communications for what the company called an “experimental orbital demo and recovery test of the Starship test vehicle” launching from Boca Chica.
In an attachment to the application, SpaceX provided the first details about what it calls “Starship Orbital – First Flight.” The mission would involve a launch of the overall Starship vehicle, including the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage, from Boca Chica.
“SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult to accurately predict or replicate computationally,” the company said in the application. “This data will anchor any changes in vehicle design or [concept of operations] after the first flight and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations.”
As outlined in the application, the Super Heavy booster will shut down 169 seconds after liftoff, separating from the Starship upper stage two seconds later. Super Heavy will fly back not to Boca Chica, but instead to a location 32 kilometers offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, touching down 495 seconds after liftoff. The application didn’t state if the booster would land on a platform, such as an oil rig SpaceX is converting for such uses, or splash down into the ocean.
Starship, which ignites its engines five seconds after stage separation, will shut down its engines 521 seconds after liftoff, having achieved orbit. The vehicle, though, will complete less than one full orbit before entering and landing in the Pacific Ocean 100 kilometers northwest of the Hawaiian island of Kauai approximately 90 minutes after liftoff.
The application notes that SpaceX will perform a “powered, targeted landing” but not on any kind of ship. Instead, it will make “a soft ocean landing.” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a tweet that the company is planning an ocean landing to avoid hazards should the vehicle not survive reentry. “We need to make sure ship won’t break up on reentry, hence deorbit over Pacific,” he wrote.
The application did not specify when the company expects to perform this launch, beyond a six-month “requested period of operation” that starts June 20.
SpaceX can’t carry out the launch, though, until it receives a license from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. That license will depend on the status of an ongoing environmental assessment of Starship/Super Heavy launch operations from Boca Chica, which fall outside the scope of the original environmental impact statement prepared when SpaceX planned to use the site for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles.
That assessment is ongoing, and the FAA has not given schedule for completing it. The FAA states on its website that the public will be given an opportunity comment on the draft assessment, which will recommend whether the FAA needs to then prepare a more detailed environmental impact statement. The FAA could otherwise determine there would be no significant impact to the environment from Starship/Super Heavy launches, or that those impacts can be mitigated with appropriate measures, the agency explained in a set of frequently asked questions about the ongoing environmental review.
“SpaceX must meet all licensing requirements before Starship/Super Heavy can launch,” an FAA spokesman noted May 14.