In a virtual appearance at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Azerbaijan on October 5, Elon Musk, the visionary founder of SpaceX, made a bold announcement that has set the space community buzzing. Musk shared that his aerospace company could potentially land an uncrewed spacecraft on Mars within the next 3 to 4 years. Additionally, Musk hinted at SpaceX's next-generation Starlink satellites launching next year on expendable Starship stages.
Musk's statement came as part of a one-hour Q&A session with Clay Mowry, the president of the International Astronautical Federation. The discussion was brimming with details about the ongoing progress of Starship, SpaceX's colossal rocket designed for interplanetary travel. Watch the video linked below. Read more: SpaceX Founder Elon Musk Wins the 2023 IAF World Space Award at 74th International Astronautical Congress
Musk said that his earlier forecasts regarding Mars missions had not materialized as anticipated, the company is still developing the Starship Super Heavy launch system at its Starbase site in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. In April this year, SpaceX launched a fully-integrated Starship for the first time during a test flight in which the vehicle experienced an unfortunate loss of control, leading to a controlled detonation several minutes into the flight. He revealed that a second Starship test vehicle is ready to perform the next flight attempt to orbit, pending a new launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a U.S. National Wildlife Service environmental review.
During the Congress, Musk talked about the new changes to Starship's design, including the introduction of "hot staging" where the second-stage engines will ignite before separating from the booster, a maneuver deemed the most efficient from a physics standpoint. "There's a tremendous amount of new technology on this rocket," Musk said. "If the engines light and the ship doesn't blow itself up, then I think we've got a decent chance of reaching orbit. It's going to do almost a complete circle of the Earth then crash down somewhere in the Pacific," he said, "[...] I do want to set expectations not too high."
He also shared plans for the Super Heavy booster to hover above the ground with the help of two arms on the launch tower to ensure a swift turnaround between launches. "The hardest part about this, or the part that will take the longest, is solving for safe ship reentry and landing," he said. Musk expressed "a decent chance" of successfully catching a booster within the next year (2024) and even potentially catching a Starship returning from orbit before the end of 2025. And once SpaceX can establish propellant transfer, he said Starship should be able to fly and land anywhere in the solar system. "I'm optimistic that we can take a Starship that's fairly unmodified ... I suspect you could land the Starship on the moon," Musk said. "You could go to the asteroid belt, the moons of Jupiter, the moons of Saturn."
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About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.