Elon Musk promises first orbital flight “this year” for his Starship mega-rocket

SpaceX boss Elon Musk detailed on Thursday evening the latest technical advances in his giant Starship rocket, which is due to reach space for the first time “this year”, without announcing new mission projects or a firm date. for this first orbital flight.

The billionaire was speaking from the company’s space base, named Starbase and located in the far south of Texas. This is where this impressive rocket for interplanetary travel, especially to Mars, was developed.

The event was of particular importance since this vehicle was selected 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 shattering surprises during a speech lasting more than an hour, yet eagerly awaited by space buffs.

The only real news: he confirmed that SpaceX was building a launch tower for Starship at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX’s Falcon rockets are already launched from.

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

Mr Musk hinted that more missions would soon be revealed. “There will be future announcements that I think will get people excited,” he said.

– Transfer to Florida –

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

The machine is 120 meters high, 9 meters in diameter and will be able to carry some 100 tons into orbit.

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

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

The company is awaiting the green light from the American aviation authority (FAA), which must first study the environmental consequences of the operations. A decision is due at the end of February.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have this clearance,” Elon Musk said.

But SpaceX is still preparing to transfer its operations to Florida if necessary. Starbase would then become dedicated to research and development.

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

“I am very confident that we will go into orbit this year,” he said.

– Price cuts –

Starship alone has already made several suborbital flights: after a few tests ending in impressive explosions at the end of 2020 and in 2021, SpaceX finally managed to land the ship. But he only went about 10 km above sea level.

NASA has chosen to bet on Starship to become the lander used as part of its Artemis program to return to the Moon.

A version of the spacecraft will have to be placed upstream in orbit around the Moon and the astronauts arriving on board their capsule (propelled separately by a rocket) will board it so that it takes them and brings them back from the lunar surface, in 2025 at the earlier.

To complete the trip, the lander must first be filled with fuel directly in space, in near-Earth orbit, by other Starship vessels that have come to refuel it. A highly perilous transfer that Elon Musk said he wanted to test in the next two years.

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

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

Each flight will cost only “a few million dollars”, in any case “less than ten million”, he assured, against dozens for Falcon 9 currently and which is partly recovered on Earth.

An imperative, because the billionaire estimates that humans will need hundreds of Starship rockets to one day become a multi-planetary species, settling on Mars.

This “life insurance” for humanity is, according to him, essential, in view of the threats weighing on it on our only Earth.

“Starship is capable of doing this, bringing a million tons to the surface of Mars and creating a self-sustaining city,” he said. And “I think we should do it as soon as possible.”

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