Starlink Digital Illustration Created By: Erc X @ErcXspace via Twitter.
SpaceX, the aerospace company that returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, aims to launch the first cargo mission to Mars in 2022, then send the first humans in 2024. The company envisions a sustainable colony established on the Red Planet before the year 2050. To make the ambitious endeavor a reality, SpaceX is developing its next-generation spacecraft that will be capable of conducting long-duration voyages through deep space. Multiple Starship prototypes are undergoing manufacturing and testing at a small beach village called Boca Chica in South Texas. The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, expects at least twenty prototypes to conduct test flights before attempting flying one to space. He hopes to launch a Starship to orbit next year.
The company is already laying down the foundation of an orbital-class Starship launch pad at Boca Chica beach. “Building the production system so that we can build ultimately hundreds or thousands of Starships, that’s the hard part,” he said during a recent Humans To Mars teleconference, “But we’ve been making good progress on the production system as people can see from the aerial photos of Boca Chica. […] A year ago, there was almost nothing there, and now we’ve got quite a lot of production capability.” The hexagon-shaped ‘orbital launch mount’ was spotted by an aerial photographer at the facility, pictured below. – “We’re rapidly making more and more ships, and we’ll be starting production of the booster soon,” he added. The Super Heavy rocket booster will propel the Starship spacecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, this enables it to carry more mass and conserve its propellant. Musk said SpaceX teams at Boca Chica will initiate the construction of ‘booster prototype one’ this month.
Orbital launch mount it is! pic.twitter.com/wFo56follm— RGVAerialPhotography (@RGVaerialphotos) August 24, 2020
Musk said he expects to conduct “hundreds” of Starship missions deploying satellites before putting humans on board. SpaceX’s first Starship passenger, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, booked a voyage around the moon scheduled for the year 2023. Building a reusable Starship capable of carrying one hundred passengers comes with an expensive price tag, Maezawa is helping fund the spacecraft’s development that will change the course of humanity’s future. Although the price he paid for the Starship flight has not been released to the public, Musk has mentioned on several occasions he feels thankful that Maezawa booked a space tour to help fund Starship's development because the payment Maezawa made was significant enough that it will “have a material effect on paying for cost and development of Starship,” Musk told reporters last year– “He's paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster. [...] He's ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”
NASA is also showing support for Starship development, SpaceX is building a lunar-optimized Starship for the agency. NASA’s lunar lander contract with SpaceX is valued at $135 million. “The NASA support is appreciated, but this is a program that’s over, probably more than $5 billion,” Musk said earlier this week, in reference to Starship’s development cost – “It’s helpful, but it’s not a game-changer. But hopefully, if we demonstrate success with Starship, then they can start thinking seriously about a lunar base.”
This week, on September 3rd, SpaceX launched the second Starship prototype 150-meters above Boca Chica beach, powered by a single Raptor engine. The stainless-steel vehicle landed vertically showcasing the aerospace company’s engineering talent (video below). Each test flight offers engineers insight towards the development of Starship and brings SpaceX closer to conducting an uncrewed mission to orbit.
Second 150m flight test of Starship pic.twitter.com/ROa0kQZXLI— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 4, 2020