November 3, 2019
At this year’s annual International Astronautical Congress conference, the SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell talked about SpaceX's mission timelines for the company's Starship spacecraft. Which is being created to be a replacement for both, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy rocket.
Falcon 9 Rocket / Source: Wikipedia
Falcon Heavy Rocket / Source: SpaceX
Starship will have a higher payload capacity, of more than 150 tons, be able to transport 100 humans on board safely and have the ability to reach the Moon and Mars one day.
There are two prototypes of the craft simultaneously under construction at their SpaceX South Texas Facility in Boca Chica Beach located in the border city of Brownsville, Texas and at their SpaceX facility in Cocoa, Florida. Starship Mk1 is being assembled in Texas and will soon be tested. SpaceX plans to fire the 3 Raptor engines and launch the craft 20 kilometers above Boca Chica Beach this year.
“This thing is going to take off, fly to 65,000 feet, about 20 kilometers and come back and land in about one to two months… So that giant thing, it’s really going to be pretty epic to see that thing take off and come back..Yeah it’s wild,” Elon Musk said at the recent Starship presentation in Texas.
Meanwhile at the space coast in Florida, Starship Mk2 is under construction.
SpaceX South Texas Facility at Boca Chica. Starship Mk1. Source: Elon Musk via Twitter.
SpaceX Florida Facility at Cocoa. Starship Mk2. Source: John Willock
SpaceX has an ambitious timeline to take Starship to orbit next year in 2020. The first orbital prototypes of Starship will be launched from Florida and Texas.
The company has plans to land Starship on the Moon within the next 3 years, before 2022. This ambitious timeline includes: A space tour around the Moon (not landing yet) for Japanese artist Yuzaku Maezawa by 2023. Then, they will launch a series of 'ships with cargo landing on the moon surface, before taking humans by 2024. The 2024 date is the same aspiration as NASA's plan to land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in their upcoming Artemis program.
“Aspirationally, we want to get Starship to orbit within a year. We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to… stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the folks that ultimately land on the Moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational time frame.”
Shotwell also mentioned Elon Musk’s ambitious timelines is a good trait to accomplish goals during the International Astronautical Congress interview:
"Elon puts out these incredibly audacious goals and people say ‘You’re not going to do it, you’ll never get to orbit, you’ll never get a real rocket to orbit….you’ll never get Heavy to orbit, you’ll never get Dragon to the station, you’ll never get Dragon back, and you’ll never land a rocket'...So, frankly, I love when people say we can’t do it, because it motivates my fantastic 6,500 employees to go do that thing."
SpaceX has contracts with Intuitive Machines and ispace, both companies working with NASA to deliver payloads to the Moon ahead of its 2024 Artemis program to launch humans back to the Moon. Though, these payload missions all specify using the Falcon 9 rocket to deliver their payloads.
Depending on how well Starship development goes, Starship could do future cargo missions to the moon.
Starship would launch on top of a first stage rocket called the Super Heavy. After refuel in low Earth orbit, Starship would blast it's way onto a trajectory to the Moon. It would not need the gateway for landing, it would land onto the lunar surface directly.
Musk has made a deal with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for a trip around the moon for an undisclosed amount of money. Which is currently funding Starship's development.
Musk hopes that the future Starlink internet service they are launching will become a good source of funding for all his space ambitions, which also include journeys to Mars and beyond.
"There are many troubles in the world...these are important & we need to solve them but we also need things that make us excited to be alive. Becoming a spacefaring civilization, being out there among the stars- this is one of the things that I know makes me be glad to be alive." -Elon Musk
SpaceX has the task of landing humans on the moon with private funding, unless they gain a deal with NASA regarding Moon and Mars missions. There are many things that SpaceX and NASA must accomplish to successfully land on the moon in 2024. So get ready for the space race beginning in 2020s -this time not between two world super powers, but between public versus private funding of spaceflight. Hopefully the upcoming years will inspire a whole new generation to look at the stars.
The Moon Awaits!