What to know about 1st test flight of SpaceX's big Starship

SpaceX is about to take a round-the-world test with one of its rockets.

What to know about 1st test flight of SpaceX's big Starship

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to make its biggest leap yet, with a test flight around the world of its mammoth Starship.

The biggest rocket ever constructed is destined to ferry people to the Moon and Mars.

Starship, which will soar almost 120 meters (400 feet) into the South Texas skies, could launch as early as next Monday. Musk's company received the OK on Friday from the Federal Aviation Administration.

This will be the very first launch of Starship with both sections combined. The sci-fi upper stage was launched several miles in the stratosphere back in the early 2000s. It crashed four times, before landing on its side upright by 2021. Super Heavy will be the tallest first-stage booster to ever soar.

SpaceX will not attempt to land the rocket or spacecraft during this demonstration. The entire spacecraft will be thrown into the ocean.

"I don't say it will reach orbit, but excitement is guaranteed." Musk assured Morgan Stanley last month that it wouldn't be dull. Musk said, 'I don't think it has, I don’t know, about a 50 percent chance of reaching space.'

Starship's debut is explained in detail:


The stainless steel Starship is equipped with 33 main engines that produce 16.7 million pounds thrust. Musk said that all but two methane-fueled first-stage engines were able to ignite during a test on the launch pad in January. This was good enough for reaching orbit. Starship's muscle could allow it to lift up to 250 tons of weight and carry 100 people during a Mars trip. Six engines make up 164 feet of the spacecraft's height (50 meters). Musk plans to use Starship first to launch his Starlinks internet service and satellites into low Earth orbit before he straps anyone in. Starship is easily superior to NASA's moon-rockets, the Saturn V of the Apollo era as well as the Space Launch System (Artemis) that made its first lunar journey late last year. The N1 rocket from the Soviet Union, which exploded after a mere minute of flight with no passengers aboard, is also outflanked by Starship.


The test flight is 1 1/2 hours long and will not complete a full Earth orbit. The booster will fall into the Gulf of Mexico if Starship reaches three minutes after launch. The spacecraft will continue to move eastward and pass over the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific before ditching in Hawaii. Starship was designed to be fully recyclable, but the test flight will not be saved. Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist who tracks spacecraft and is a spacecraft tracker, will be even more excited when Starship lands and returns from orbit intact. He said it will be a "profound development in spaceflight" if Starship is operational and debugged.


Starship will launch from a remote location near Boca Chica Beach, at the southernmost tip Texas. This is just below South Padre Island and approximately 20 miles away from Brownsville. SpaceX's Starship prototypes have been developed and built at the SpaceX complex, which is located just down the road. Starbase is a complex with more than 1,800 workers who are based in Brownsville and other parts of the Rio Grande Valley. The Texas launch pad has giant robotic arms, called chopsticks, that can grab the booster as it returns to earth. SpaceX has redesigned one of its Florida launch pads in order to make room for Starships. SpaceX's Falcon launchers blast off from Florida with astronauts, cargo for space stations and satellites.


Musk, as usual, is very blunt when it comes to his odds. He gives even odds at best that Starship will achieve orbit on its initial flight. Musk estimates that 80% of Starships currently under construction at Starbase will reach orbit by the end of this year. He estimates that it will take two years to reach full and rapid reusability.


SpaceX, based in California, is currently focusing its efforts on the moon. The company has a NASA contract worth $3 billion to land astronauts at the surface of the moon as soon as 2025 using the upper-stage spacecraft. This will be the first lunar landing by an astronaut in over 50 years. The astronauts will depart Earth using NASA's Orion capsule, Space Launch System rocket and transfer to Starship for the descent on the lunar surface. They will then return to Orion. Starship must first refuel low-Earth orbit in order to reach the moon or beyond. SpaceX imagines a depot orbiting in which Starships without windows will act as tankers. Starships aren't only for NASA. The first private crew to fly Starship in orbit around the Earth will be a private crew. Then, two private flights would be made to the moon -- with no landings.

Other Players

Other new rockets are on the way. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is preparing the New Glenn launch vehicle for its orbital debut in Cape Canaveral (Florida) within the next few years. The rocket is named after John Glenn, who was the first American astronaut to orbit the globe. It towers above the current New Shepard, which bears the name of Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard’s 1961 suborbital flight. NASA will use New Glenn in 2024 to launch a pair spacecraft to Mars. United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan launch rocket is expected to be launched later this year. It will lift a private moon lander on NASA's request. Arianespace, a European company, is nearing the launch of its upgraded Ariane 6 from French Guiana. NASA's Space Launch System, which will transport astronauts to the moon, will be upgraded. ___

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