Elon Musk Plans For SpaceX Starship Orbital Launch in 6 Months

September 30, 2019by Richard Tribou
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images/TNS) *FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY*

ORLANDO, Fla. — SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave an update on the progress of the company’s next-generation space vehicle, Starship, with plans to get an orbital test launch within six months and people on board within a year.

In a Saturday night presentation from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility, Musk outlined plans for Starship production at both there and in Cape Canaveral.

“Well I think we could potentially see people flying next year,” Musk said. “If we get to orbit in about six months and it’s designed to be a reusable rocket — so a reusable booster, a reusable ship — so we can do many flights to prove out the reliability very quickly.”

The company has been testing a Starhopper test vehicle from Boca Chica with an August launch that sent it up to about 150 meters and then down on a nearby landing pad. The next big step is a 20 km flight, or 65,000 feet, using the Mark 2 test vehicle that will be taking place in one or two months.

“That’s going to be pretty epic seeing that thing take off and come back,” he said.

The end goal is part of SpaceX’s grand plan to send the SpaceX fleet of Starships to other planets including the moon and Mars.

“There are so are many things to worry about, so many things to be concerned about but we also need things that make us excited to be alive, that make us glad to wake up in the morning and be fired up about the future and think, “Yeah, the future’s going to be great.’ Space exploration is one of those things and becoming a space-faring civilization, being out there among the stars,” Musk said.

The speech was attended by thousands on a windy night in southeast Texas on the 11th anniversary of the first successful orbital flight of the company’s first rocket, Falcon 1.

“If that launch had not succeeded, that would have been the end of SpaceX,” Musk said.

Now the company flies both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, along with its Dragon resupply vehicle that goes to the International Space Station and the Crew Dragon capsule that has yet to launch, but when it does will be one of two private company ventures that partner with NASA to launch astronauts into space.

But the future of SpaceX is Starship.

“We’re faced with a choice. Which future do you want? Do you want the future where we become a space-faring civilization and are in many worlds and are out there among the stars or are forever confined to Earth? And I say it’s the first, and I hope you agree with me,” Musk said to a round of cheers from the crowd.

Musk then outlined the details of how Starship will be an economical option including the use of stainless steel on Starship, a design that was only pursued less than six months ago, is the best option for what he calls rapid reusability.

He also detailed the method of Starship’s re-entry for landing, which he said was a unique approach unlike what the company currently performs, something he likened to a skydiver, coming in at a high velocity at a 60-degree angle until a last second turn and safe landing.

“It’ll look totally nice to see that thing land,” Musk said. “It’ll be crazy.”

The first test Starhopper used one of the company’s Raptor engines while the Mark 2 version will use three. The orbital versions of Starship will be later iterations that Musk called Mark 4 or Mark 5. SpaceX is building these test vehicles in both Texas and Florida, but will also be working on the Super Heavy vehicle that will be used for orbital launch.

“The priority is to build at least two Starships at each site, at Boca and the Cape, and then start building the booster,” Musk said. “So we’ll complete Mark 1-4 before doing Mark 1 of the booster, and then we’ll do Mark 1 and 2 of the booster at the Cape and at Boca.”

Musk said the main holdup on the boosters will be the engines as the full orbital version of the super heavy boosters will use up to 37 Raptor engines, he said, and that means for testing, the company would need about 100 engines on hand.

For long-term plans, Musk details the need for orbital refueling, so that the Starship can launch, gas up so to speak and make its way to distant destinations, and that its work with docking with the ISS has been invaluable toward its plans to load up Starship with 1,200 tons of propellant in low Earth orbit after launch.

Musk also said the company looks to build a base on the moon, even if it’s just for scientific purposes.

“This would be an incredible area of research whether or not people want to live on the moon. There’s definitely a lot of science to be done,” he said. “Of course we can go to other places in the solar system like Saturn.”

But his focus is on the fourth planet from the sun.

“The critical thing we need to focus on I think is the fastest path to a self-sustaining city on Mars,” he said. “This is the fundamental thing.”

He closed his initial speech with why now is the best time for this pursuit.

“The reality is as far as we know this is the only place at least in this part of the galaxy, or in the Milky Way where there is consciousness and it’s taken a long time for us to get to this point,” Musk said.

In what he cites is 4.5 billion years of Earth’s existence, with the sun’s gradual increase in heat, Earth has “several hundred million years left, that’s all we’ve got” he said somewhat in jest. But then he pointed out that if life had taken longer on Earth to develop, then we would have been out of luck.

“Thought of from an evolutionary standpoint, if it took an extra 10% longer for conscious life to evolve on Earth, it wouldn’t have evolved at all because it would have been incinerated by the sun,” he said. “So what I’m saying is that it appears that consciousness is a very rare and precious thing, and we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness. And the window has been opened only now — after 4 1/2 billion years is that window open. That’s a long time to wait and it might not stay open for long.

“I’m pretty optimistic by nature but there’s some chance that window will not be open for long, and I think we should become a multi-planet civilization while that window is open.”


©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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