By Josie Ensor,
Published by The Telegraph, 9 April 2023
Rocket designed to take man to the Red Planet is ready for test launch in days, says billionaire’s firm
SpaceX is on the cusp of sending its Starship – the most powerful rocket ever built – into orbit, in the key first test of the reality of life on Mars.
SpaceX this week published photos of the massive Starship, which is designed to eventually send astronauts to the Moon and beyond, on its launchpad at the company’s base in Boca Chica, Texas.
“Starship fully stacked at Starbase,” SpaceX said in a tweet. “Team is working towards a launch rehearsal next week followed by Starship’s first integrated flight test ~ week later pending regulatory approval.”
SpaceX will need a green light from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before being allowed to carry out the test launch. Eagle-eyed space-watchers pointed out that the FAA planning document listed a launch April 10 with backup days of April 11 and 12.
If all goes to plan, the orbital flight will lift off from Texas before landing off the coast of Hawaii.
The company conducted a successful test-firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the first-stage booster of Starship in February.
The 230-foot Super Heavy booster, which out-performs even the massive Saturn V that first sent Nasa astronauts to the moon, was anchored to the ground during the test-firing, called a static fire, to prevent it from lifting off.
The engines were ignited in a roar of orange flames and billowing clouds of vapor.
Thirty-one of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor rocket engines fired for roughly 10 seconds.
“Team turned off 1 engine just before start & 1 stopped itself, so 31 engines fired overall,” Mr Musk tweeted. “But still enough engines to reach orbit!”
Starship consists of a reusable capsule that would carry crew and cargo and the giant first-stage booster.
Billionaire Mr Musk has said Starship’s debut orbital launch has a 50 per cent chance of success.
But he thinks there’s an 80 per cent chance of reaching orbit by the end of the year. Speaking at a Morgan Stanley media conference last month, he said: “I am not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement. It won’t be boring.”
Mr Musk wants to use it to help build a colony on Mars “in our lifetimes”.
Starship’s development is funded partially by a $3 billion Nasa contract, which plans to use the SpaceX rocket in the next several years to land the first crew of astronauts on the moon since 1972, as part of the US space agency’s multibillion-dollar Artemis programme, which aims to establish a permanent base on the moon as a stepping stone to human exploration of Mars.
Nasa has picked the Starship capsule to ferry its astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis III mission, set for 2025 at the earliest.
The US space agency will take astronauts up to lunar orbit itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been in development for more than a decade.
Starship is both bigger and more powerful than SLS.
It generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rockets used to send the Apollo astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
SpaceX foresees eventually putting a Starship into orbit, and then refuelling it with another Starship so it can continue a journey to Mars or beyond.
Other super heavy rockets under development include Blue Origin’s New Glenn, China’s Long March 9 and Russia’s Yenisei.
The Starship’s development has been highly publicised, but fraught with difficulty.
SpaceX has already test-flown the bullet-shaped spacecraft that sits atop the booster several times. All those flights have been shorter “hops” in which the rocket has flown to an altitude of roughly six miles before attempting to land again.
However, all but one of the tests ended in a crash.
Its second full test flight ended in a fiery crash landing, two months after another earlier attempt at landing the craft ended in an equally explosive style.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo, is planning to use the Starship to take a crew of artists on a voyage around the moon, which has been scheduled optimistically for 2023.
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