NASA Administrator Bill Nelson testified at the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee about NASA’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 request which allocates an annual budget to the agency to fund its space exploration projects. During the meeting, Nelson expressed optimism about SpaceX's ability to land NASA Artemis III astronauts on the Moon by 2025 despite its recent failed Starship flight attempt to orbit. SpaceX is developing a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) to land the first woman and next man on the Moon. It will be the first time in over 50 years that humans visit the lunar surface.
SpaceX performed the first fully-integrated test flight of Starship Super Heavy on April 20. The stainless-steel launch vehicle lifted off from the Starbase site into an altitude of around 39 kilometers above Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. Approximately 4 minutes into the flight, multiple of the rocket’s 33 Raptor engines shutdown unexpectedly causing the massive vehicle to tumble, SpaceX Mission Control opted to trigger the Flight Termination System which intentionally caused the launch vehicle to explode midair. “Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test. With a test like this, success comes from what we learn,” said SpaceX, “[...] test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary.”
“Congrats to SpaceX on Starship’s first integrated flight test! Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward,” tweeted Nelson hours after the launch attempt. “Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test – and beyond.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that SpaceX assured it is working to rapidly repair the damage the Raptor engines’ force caused at the Starbase launch pad to perform the next orbital flight attempt soon. Nelson also downplayed the failed first attempt to orbit. –“I can report to you, as of today, SpaceX is still saying that they think it will take about at least two months to rebuild the launch pad and, concurrently, about two months to have their second vehicle ready to launch,” Nelson said at the House committee, “Now understand that the explosion, that’s not a big downer in the way that SpaceX does things. They are hardware-rich meaning they’ve got a lot of those rockets ready to go. And that’s their modus operandi. They launch. If something goes wrong they figure out what it is, they go back, and they launch it again. So I anticipate that we will see a number of launches from Boca Chica, Texas,” he said, adding that someday “[...] they’re gonna bring that rocket to [U.S. State Representative] Bill Posey’s and my home county [in Florida] and launch it there after they have already proven and had the experience. So I’m fairly confident [of the schedule]. But there are a lot of things that still have to be done,” said Nelson.
The greater concern for NASA is the budget cuts that passed the House on April 26 as part of the deficit reduction bill. NASA has a $27.2 billion request for FY2024 to fund all its space exploration programs. If the bill goes into effect, it would affect NASA’s budget to achieve the goal of American astronauts setting foot on the Lunar South Pole by 2025, among other agency projects. “It would be a disaster. We would be delayed,” Nelson said, regarding the potential budget cuts.
NASA’s Artemis III mission not only requires SpaceX’s Starship HLS, but also Starship tankers for orbital refueling, and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) with the Orion spacecraft. SLS will lift off carrying a crew of four aboard Orion, and Orion will dock to Starship HLS in lunar orbit where a pair of astronauts will transfer. Starship HLS will land on the Moon with two astronauts that will explore the surface for a week, while the others will remain in lunar orbit aboard Orion to monitor the mission.
4/20 View of SpaceX Starship first-ever launch attempt to orbit from Isla Blanca at South Padre Island, Texas. It was AMAZING!! Congrats on lifting off the Starbase launchpad!! @elonmusk @SpaceX— Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) April 20, 2023
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
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.