SpaceX giant 400ft Starship rocket will fly 47,000 feet into the air later this week according to Elon Musk, but there is a one in three chance it will land with a crash.
The massive two-stage-to-orbit heavy lift vehicle has been in development since 2012 and could bring the average cost of launch from $51 million to just $2 million.
In what is the latest, and most ambitious test of the rocket to date, it will fly up to nine miles in the air – higher than the cruising height of most planes – then come back down to land safely at the SpaceX Boca Chica development facility in Texas.
However, Elon Musk tweeted that a ‘lot of things need to go right’ for it to land back on solid ground giving the landing a one in three chance of happening as planned.
SpaceX hopes to use Starship to take passengers to the Moon and Mars – with Musk suggesting the first un-crewed flight to Mars could be in just two years time.
No specific date or time has been set for the test flight, which follows a series of ‘static fire tests’, but it is expected to be before the end of this week.
Musk says the first ‘high-altitude test’ of the rocket will see it fly nine miles up above the Boca Chica facility in Texas and then come straight back down for a landing
The massive Starship two-stage-to-orbit heavy lift vehicle has been in development since 2012 and is designed to bring the cost of launch down by being reusable (artist’s impression)
SpaceX is one step closer to launching its Starship SN8 prototype nine miles up after a series of successful static fire tests at its Texas facility
To develop a spaceship that can potentially reach the Moon or Mars straight from Earth requires extensive testing including landing back on Earth from a height.
If this latest flight test – that will see the triple Raptor engine fire and lift the 400ft spaceship into the air – is successful, then further, higher tests will likely follow.
In an interview with German publishing house Axel Springer on Tuesday, the SpaceX founder and CEO said he had an ambitious timeline for future missions.
Musk said he hoped to have Starship land on the Red Planet within the next two years and have the first humans step foot on Mars after a trip on board Starship by 2026 – a slight slip from his original goal of 2024.
The latest high-altitude test is penciled in for some point between Wednesday and the end of the week, but test times and dates can change at short notice.
Nine miles up isn’t enough to take it into space – but as all previous ‘hops’ have been measured in feet rather than miles – it is a significant step forward.
The edge of space is agreed by NASA and others to be 50 miles above sea level but to go into orbit you need to get to at least 100 miles above sea level.
Last week Musk tweeted: ‘Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week. Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.’
The landing is one of the most important aspects – as it needs to be fully reusable to achieve the goals and price per flight set out by the SpaceX team.
There are a number of potential uses for Starship – including deploying hundreds of satellites into orbit at one time and landing astronauts on the Moon and Mars.
Musk said he was ‘fairly confident’ in a timeline that could see Starship arrive on Mars without a crew in 2022 and with humans as early as 2026.
He said this was due in part to an ambitious parallel development programme for Starship that involves multiple generations of prototypes developed at the same time for rapid testing.
If this latest flight test – that will see the triple Raptor engine fire and lift the 400ft spaceship into the air – is successful, then further, higher tests will likely follow
However, for SpaceX to get from a nine mile high test flight – assuming it lands successfully – to the nearly 40 million miles to Mars may take some doing.
The latest prototype of Starship, dubbed SN8, needs to complete a static fire test at the SpaceX Boca Chica development facility in Texas before the altitude test flight.
When operational, it is hoped that a single Starship launch will cost about $2 million per trip – a Falcon 9 launch currently costs $51 million if components are re-used.
Starship is made up of two sections – the Super Heavy booster and the rocket ship which could carry as many as 100 people to Mars at a time.
It stands at nearly 400ft and ‘a lot can go wrong’ in landing such a large craft back on solid ground – however, previous ‘short hops’ have been a success.
SpaceX’s Starship has a ‘fighting chance’ of launching on its first un-crewed mission to Mars in just four year’s time, founder and CEO Elon Musk has claimed. Pictured, a Starship prototype
There are also other prototypes of the Starship craft ready to be tested if this flight fails, according to reports.
SN8 is the first prototype to feature a nosecone and nose fins that help in the high-altitude tests. The previous ‘short hops’ were carried out using prototype SN6.
That spaceship just had a ‘mass simulator’ up top that weighed as much as a nose.
Musk says he has SN9 and SN10 ready to go as they were developed in parallel to SN8 and follow a theme of ‘building successive generations of prototypes’ rapidly so they y can test and iterate quickly.
Elon Musk says he hopes to make a trip into orbit himself at some point in the next two to three years and would one day be buried on Mars.
WHAT IS ELON MUSK’S ‘BFR’?
The BFR (Big F***ing Rocket), now known as Starship, will complete all missions and is smaller than the ones Musk announced in 2016.
The SpaceX CEO said the rocket would take its first trip to the red planet in 2022, carrying only cargo, followed by a manned mission in 2024 and claimed other SpaceX’s products would be ‘cannibalised’ to pay for it.
The rocket would be partially reusable and capable of flight directly from Earth to Mars.
Once built, Musk believes the rocket could be used for travel on Earth – saying that passengers would be able to get anywhere in under an hour.