SpaceX has set a tentative date for the first orbital flight of the Starship, the spacecraft that will transform space exploration forever. The early concepts for the Starship date back to 2005, and after 17 years in development the spacecraft has come a long way. It has already been stacked, performed low-altitude hop tests, and nailed a high-altitude flight and landing.
The vision that drove Elon Musk to found SpaceX was making humans interplanetary. Musk has been a vocal proponent of humans traveling to Mars, establishing a settlement, and eventually building a city on the Red Planet. Despite all odds, SpaceX has remained true to its goal. While an expedition to Mars is still a few years away, in 2021 NASA awarded SpaceX the contract to land humans on the Moon using the Starship, a sign that the technology is ready to deploy.
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In a tweet, Elon Musk revealed the schedule and launch date for the Starship’s first orbital flight test. Musk says the launch will happen in May 2022 if the agenda goes as planned. The spacecraft needs to be fitted with 39 flight-worthy engines before take-off, and these are expected to be built by April. It will take another month to integrate the engines and the rocket will then be ready to take its first orbital flight.
First Starship orbital flight will be with Raptor 2 engines, as they are much more capable & reliable. 230 ton or ~500k lb thrust at sea level.
We’ll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 21, 2022
Bigger, Stronger, And Faster
By increasing weight and payload capacity, the Starship will accelerate space exploration like never before. Since the late 1950s when the first satellites were launched, space exploration has been limited by weight and size. NASA’s Space Shuttle allows for a crew size of up to 7 astronauts and can carry about 65,000 lbs. of payload. It featured a large cargo area that could carry the components required to build the International Space Station.
If humanity is serious about exploring space, building bases on the Moon and the solar system, it needs a spacecraft that can carry everything needed for the mission. The Starship can carry up to 100 astronauts in just one flight. It can also take an excess of 100 tonnes (220,462 lbs) of payload into space, according to SpaceX. But it’s not just about being able to carry more people or payload than a normal rocket, it also has enough space to carry large structures and heavy machinery.
The Starship is also unique because it can launch from Earth, take flight, refuel via a tanker ship in the Earth’s orbit and then proceed to Mars. Once it lands on Mars, it can refuel using local resources and fly back to Earth. Orbital test flights are critical for a spacecraft and are the start to making the rocket more efficient. The more a spacecraft launches, the better the technology becomes. The path to Mars is now clearer than ever for SpaceX – it starts with the orbital flight in 2022, moves on to landing humans on the Moon in 2025, and from there, heads to Mars.