SpaceX CEO Elon Musk promises long-awaited Starship update next week
While running behind schedule in classic fashion, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says he’ll present the first big Starship program update in two and a half years on Thursday, February 10th.
Additionally, as an apparent centerpiece for the event and update, Musk says that SpaceX will perform the second-ever “full stack” fit test with a Starship upper stage and Super Heavy booster.
Starship S20 and Super Heavy booster B4 were stacked for the first time in early August 2021, when both stages were still weeks or even months away from some degree of completion. Only months later did Starship S20 kick off a multi-month period of qualification tests, eventually becoming the first Starship prototype to successfully test a full six Raptor engines at once. Super Heavy B4, on the other hand, had an even more painful time for unknown reasons and only graduated to basic cryogenic proof testing in mid-December – more than four months later.
While the booster has had a full 29 Raptor 1 engines installed for months, the booster has yet to perform or attempt a single static fire of any number of those engines and hasn’t even managed a basic wet dress rehearsal with real liquid oxygen and methane propellant. Eventually, SpaceX did perform a handful of Booster 4 Raptor ignition tests, but those were almost more of a test of the launch pad than Super Heavy itself. The slow and minimal progress SpaceX has made testing Super Heavy B4 may actually be because of issues with orbital launch pad’s tank farm design. To this day, while the oxygen and nitrogen half of the farm are already storing thousands of tons of propellant and coolant, the fuel side of the same farm has yet to be filled with any methane. That makes thoroughly testing a Super Heavy booster much harder, though there are some obvious workarounds SpaceX could have made if it had really wanted to start proof testing Booster 4 as soon as possible.
In fact, it’s no longer clear if Ship 20 and Booster 4 will actually get to fulfill their original goal of supporting Starship’s first orbital (velocity) test flight. Nonetheless, they are still two giant, nearly completed stages that together form a full Starship ‘stack.’
Heading into 2022, SpaceX appears to be more focused on testing a somewhat extraneous part of the first orbital Starship launch site – “chopstick” arms installed on the launch tower. SpaceX’s current Starship ‘launch tower’ design centers around the need for three giant swinging arms – one to fuel and power Starship and the other two to lift, stack, and – maybe one day – catch Super Heavy boosters and ships. Had SpaceX stayed true to the original Starship/BFR/ITS design, the booster would have been fueled through the launch mount and Starship would have been fueled through a connection with the booster, significantly simplifying the tower.
In theory, replacing that design with a complex, building-sized umbilical arm might ultimately improve Starship’s nominal payload to orbit by a few percent. Additionally, using the even more complex “chopsticks” – a pair of giant arms – to lift and stack Super Heavy and Starship may actually be a smart design, as it could theoretically free SpaceX from the painful operational constraints imposed by large cranes.
By all appearances, that’s exactly what SpaceX plans to test next week. Starship S20 has already been moved adjacent to the launch tower and Super Heavy B4 has been attached to a crane (somewhat ironically) in preparation for its own move to the tower. For the first time, SpaceX might use the tower arms to lift Super Heavy onto the orbital launch mount, stabilize the booster, and then lift and stack Starship on top of it – all without a crane, in theory. Of course, insofar as SpaceX performed the first full-stack fit test with a crane, the tower’s lift/catch arms only really become irreplaceable once waiting a few days for safe lift conditions becomes a bottleneck for Starship launch operations.
Nonetheless, a successful stacking operation with those arms would be an impressive technical feat and demonstrate one of the things needed for all-weather Starship launch operations, even if it won’t leave SpaceX any closer to orbital test flights than it was before.
Elon Musk to host major presentation on SpaceX’s Mars-bound Starship spacecraft
It is the first time that Mr Musk has given such an update on the spacecraft since 2019.
SpaceX is expected to conduct a test that will see Starship go into orbit for the first time. Recent months have seen a range of high-altitude flights, but attempts to conduct that major orbital test have been delayed, in part because of regulatory problems.
Starship is SpaceX’s big hope for the future of space travel, with chief executive Elon Musk saying it is key for his plans to head onto the Moon and Mars, and that its vast size is required to carry the cargo needed to go and live on other planets.
The update will take place on Thursday, 10 February at 8pm Texas time, Mr Musk said. (Texas is in two time zones, but Mr Musk is likely referring to the Central Time Zone, which would put the event at 9pm eastern time or 2am in the UK.)
The announcement came at the end of a run of tweets during which Mr Musk was asked about the future of Starship. Mr Musk had announced that SpaceX’s other Falcon 9 vehicle is expected to launch about once a week in 2022, and a follower replied to ask how that would change when Starship came into use.
“Starship is in a different league. Orders of magnitude more mass to orbit than Falcon. Necessary for creating a self-sustaining city on Mars,” he wrote.
“Starship aspires to be the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle, the holy grail of rocketry. This is the critical breakthrough needed to make life multiplanetary.”
He then announced the time for the new presentation, though did not give any clues to what it might contain or what was planned.
Mr Musk has given a number of such presentations through the life of Starship, which has been renamed and redesigned in a number of ways since it was first discussed in 2005. In the past, they have focused not only on new announcements but also on building excitement about the project.
At the last update, in 2019, Mr Musk said that SpaceX was hoping to put Starship into orbit within six months. He recognised then that the target was “nuts”, and the company is still yet to meet it.
SpaceX preparing the ultimate backdrop for Elon Musk’s Starship update
For the third time, SpaceX has installed Super Heavy Booster 4 (B4) on Starbase’s lone orbital launch mount, kicking off preparations for CEO Elon Musk’s upcoming presentation.
In a decision that is difficult to logically explain, however, SpaceX chose to install Super Heavy on the ‘orbital launch mount’ with a crane instead of a complex pair of giant arms explicitly designed to lift, stack, and catch Starship hardware that the company has spent the last several months installing and testing.
This does not make a great deal of sense. One obvious explanation would be that those arms – despite completing multiple lift tests with hundreds of tons of water bags in recent weeks – are not ready for lifting and stacking operations. However, Starbase does not have a crane large enough to lift Starship S20 onto Booster 4, meaning that SpaceX almost certainly intends to use the tower’s arms to do so.
By replacing the need for large cranes, stacking with arms can free SpaceX from the significant weather and wind restrictions cranes impose when lifting large objects. In theory, giant rigid arms affixed to a mostly immovable tower will be able prevent high winds from causing Starships or Super Heavy boosters to sway dangerously. On the South Texas coast, where high winds are present more often than not for months at a time, that’s essential for SpaceX to ever be able to rapidly reuse Starships launched out of Boca Chica.
Further, while there are many reasons to doubt the viability and rationality of SpaceX’s plans to catch Super Heavy and Starship out of the air, it would have a good deal of sense to at least test part of that process with Super Heavy B4 by using the arms to lift the booster up the tower and lower it into the launch mount. If the arms aren’t capable of doing that, the only operation they will be truly useful for is stacking Starships on top of boosters.
Ultimately, there is hopefully just some minor problem with the arms that means SpaceX has enough confidence in them to lift a 100+ ton (~220,000+ lb) Starship about 100 meters (330 ft) off the ground but not enough confidence to lift a 200+ ton (~450,000 lb) booster ~50 meters (165 ft) off the ground. It could also be an issue with Booster 4, which is a first-of-its-kind Super Heavy prototype, though Starship S20 is no less of a pathfinder.
Up next could be the tower arms’ first test with real hardware – Starship S20, in this case. Depending on SpaceX’s readiness, the ship could probably be lifted onto Booster 4 as early as today – February 6th – but the company has a few days of buffer before Elon Musk’s planned February 10th presentation. The fully stacked Starship will likely serve as a backdrop for the event – extremely impressive even if Booster 4 is nowhere close to ready for flight.
SpaceX’s Starship update comes at a critical time for the program
The biggest question: Are these vehicles truly ready for flight?
A view of Starbase in South Texas on Tuesday morning, with Ship 20 and Booster 4 ready for stacking.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk will host a "Starship presentation" on Thursday evening in South Texas at the company's launch and production site.
The event will provide Musk's first comprehensive update on the vehicle's progress toward launch—and plans for when it is operational—since September 2019. SpaceX has made enormous progress on the Super Heavy rocket and Starship upper stage since that time, but some critical questions remain. The presentation will certainly be livestreamed by the company, and Ars will be on hand for the event.
Here are some of the biggest things we're looking for.
Is Starship ready for flight?
This week, engineers and technicians at the South Texas facility, which SpaceX calls Starbase, will stack a Starship vehicle on top of a Super Heavy booster. The Starship will be "Ship 20." There haven't been 19 previous Starship prototypes, but there have been a lot. And this ship will be stacked on "Booster 4." It will make for an impressive backdrop, but will either of these vehicles take flight?
The answer: probably not. While Booster 4 will have 29 Raptor engines, they appear to have been painted for the presentation, which does not seem like something you would do to a vehicle before a flight.
At the same time, at the nearby production site in South Texas, work is progressing on Ships 21, 22, and so on—and at least Boosters 7 and 8. So what is the plan for all of this hardware and its readiness for an orbital launch attempt?
Frankly, there have been rumors swirling that SpaceX may not even attempt an orbital launch this year due to technical issues with the Raptor engine. All of this information has been vague and unconfirmed. However, it's true that SpaceX has been testing the "Raptor 2" engine at its facilities in McGregor Texas with some urgency. Hopefully Musk will clarify all of this.
Will Starship fly from Texas?
Setting aside the rocket's readiness, there are also questions about the Federal Aviation Administration's review of the South Texas site for orbital Starship launches.
This past September, the FAA released its initial environmental report on South Texas, kicking off a public comment period. At the time, the FAA said it planned to release a final assessment at the end of 2021. Then it delayed that release until the end of February. Now, there is chatter that the FAA may delay the process beyond the end of February.
Whenever the process reaches a conclusion, the FAA is expected to issue one of three rulings: a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), a Mitigated FONSI, or a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. A "FONSI" would allow the formal launch licensing process to proceed. If a full Environmental Impact Statement is needed, launches from South Texas would likely be delayed by months, if not years, as more paperwork is completed.
In recent months, SpaceX has begun restarting operations at a Starship worksite near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Is it doing so in case the company needs to pivot its Starship program from South Texas to Florida? Again, hopefully Musk will share SpaceX's view on launch site availability.
How to use Starship?
Starship is the most ambitious rocket ever built, and that's no hyperbole. It is massive and designed to be flown many times, at low cost, with minimal refurbishment. To get there, a good deal of development work and testing remains. We know that initial flights will test the capability to launch and land the Super Heavy booster—a landing that should be spectacular, as the plan is to "catch" the massive rocket with a set of "chopsticks"—as well as the Starship vehicle. This will likely require several attempts. Once SpaceX is confident that Starship is reasonably reliable, it will begin to launch large batches of its own Starlink satellites.
But what will happen then? One of the biggest space stories in 2021 was NASA's selection of Starship to serve as the lander for its Artemis Moon program. This put Starship squarely on the critical path of NASA's most important program, a return to the Moon. How is work coming on this lunar-lander aspect of Starship's development?
And what of Mars? Clearly, there will be no Martian flights in 2022, but it remains possible that SpaceX could make a Mars launch window in the fourth quarter of 2024. Planetary scientists have expressed an interest in putting research payloads on these early flights. Does SpaceX have any cargo plans for its first Mars missions?
Getting humans to Mars remains the ultimate goal, of course. And certainly, someone will ask Musk when he thinks the first humans will fly on Starship to Mars. It's a dumb question, because no one knows. Musk doesn't. NASA doesn't. I don't. There are a hundred critical funding and technical and regulatory hurdles that must be leaped before humans launch on a mission to Mars.
If it happens in the next 10 years, it would be a miracle. But also, it won't happen in our lifetimes unless Starship is a success. Such are the stakes of SpaceX's effort.
SpaceX's Elon Musk: 1st orbital Starship flight maybe March
SpaceX's Elon Musk says the first orbital flight of his towering Starship could come in another month or two
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- SpaceX’s Elon Musk said Thursday that the first orbital flight of his towering Starship — the world's most powerful rocket ever built — could come in another month or two.
While he anticipates failures, he’s confident Starship will reach orbit by the end of this year.
Musk provided his first major Starship update in more than two years while standing alongside the 390-foot (119-meter) rocket at SpaceX's Texas spaceport. He urged the nighttime crowd, “Let’s make this real!”
“This is really some wild stuff here,” he said. “In fact, hard to believe it's real.”
NASA plans to use the fully reusable Starship to land astronauts on the moon as early as 2025. Musk, meanwhile, hopes to deploy a fleet of Starships to create a city on Mars, hauling equipment and people there.
For now, the initial flights would carry Musk's internet satellites, called Starlinks, into orbit.
“There will probably be a few bumps in the road, but we want to iron those out with satellite missions and test missions” before putting people on board, he said.
SpaceX's Super Heavy first-stage booster has yet to blast off. But the futuristic, bullet-shaped, steel Starship — perched on top and serving as the upper stage — successfully launched and landed on its own last May, following a series of spectacular explosions. The rocketship soared more than 6 miles (10 kilometers).
SpaceX is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before proceeding with Starship's next phase: going into orbit. Musk said he expects the go-ahead in March and that the rocket should be ready to fly by then as well. That would put the launch in the next couple of months, he added.
If the FAA demands more information about potential environmental impacts or lawsuits emerge, Musk said Starship launches could move to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But that would delay the first orbital launch by more than half a year, he noted.
The full-size Starships are massive — taller than NASA's past and present moon rockets, with approximately double the liftoff thrust.
Besides Florida's Cape Canaveral and the southern tip of Texas near Boca Chica, Starships could ultimately launch from floating ocean platforms anywhere in the world, Musk said. He envisions Starships launching three times a day — “rapid reusability" — with refilling stations in space for the longer destinations like Mars. The first refilling test could happen by the end of next year, he said.
Musk estimates a Starship launch could wind up costing less than $10 million — maybe even just a few million dollars with a high flight rate, which would bring down prices. He called it “crazy low” and “ridiculously good” by current space standards.
Starship already has one private customer: a Japanese entrepreneur who has bought a flight around the moon and plans to take a dozen artists with him. Musk hinted there are others interested in buying trips, saying future announcements would be forthcoming.
Until now, SpaceX has relied on its much smaller Falcon rockets to launch satellites, as well as astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station for NASA. Its first private flight, purchased by a billionaire, was last September. Another is coming up at the end of March, this one to the space station with three businessmen who are paying $55 million apiece.
Elon Musk gives hotly anticipated Starship update, but it's light on new details
After fully stacking Starship and Super Heavy Booster in August, SpaceX rolled the booster back to the High Bay for final testing. A fully assembled vehicle is expected to be on display again Thursday.
Musk once again said that he wants to pursue a city on Mars, but did not provide any updates in regard to who would live there or how it would be governed. And he reiterated how some design changes, like an updated rocket engine design, will help reduce costs.
Many more unanswered questions remain. NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to take astronauts to the moon, but Musk did not delineate what testing SpaceX will have to do before it can carry out its promised crewed missions, nor what the roadmap will look like to getting Starship ready for a moon or Mars mission.
But Musk used the media event to engage with his core fanbase and employees, touting the company's progress during a speech that was back-grounded by the full Starship vehicle — spacecraft and rocket — on a launch pad just behind Musk at the company's South Texas facilities.
SpaceX has been working at a rapid clip to get Starship ready for launch, but so far the company has only sent early prototypes on a few so-called "hop tests," and it's still waiting for regulatory approval to put the vehicle atop its gargantuan rocket booster and attempt to send it to orbit. Musk said that the company had managed to lower the cost and weight of its individual Raptor rocket engines, in large part by consolidating parts and changing flanges to welds in the design. Musk also said that the second generation of the Raptor engine would produce more thrust than the first generation.
The update comes more than two years after Musk announced Starship's first space tourism customer, Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa. Maezawa paid SpaceX an undisclosed amount of money to secure a seat for himself and a group of artists on a Starship trip around the moon, hoping it could take off as soon as 2023. Maezawa is still in the process of deciding who he'll take with him.
Musk did hint that there will be more Starship sales announced in the future, but declined to share Thursday, noting he didn't want to steal the spotlight from customers who may be planning their own announcements.
All about Starship
Starship is at the core of SpaceX's plans to develop the technology necessary to establish a human settlement on Mars.
SpaceX has achieved regular crewed flights to the International Space Station, sent the first all-tourist crew to orbit, and made its mark as the exciting-newcomer-turned-reliable-mainstay of the US aerospace industry.
But as NASA demonstrated in the mid-20th century, going from brief jaunts to space to getting a spacecraft all the way to the moon isn't easy. And to this day, no human has ever traveled as far as Mars. For all of Musk and SpaceX's achievements, there is still a long way to go. And for all that Musk has achieved, he has also accrued a reputation for missed deadlines on ambitious projects.
Since 2019, however, SpaceX has mostly been in show-don't-tell mode, executing about a dozen test flights of various early prototypes that went from hopping a few feet off the ground to soaring more than 30,000 feet. A few high-altitude tests ended in explosions as the test rockets smashed back into the ground. But its latest test launch, in May 2021, managed to land upright without bursting into flames.
Lately, SpaceX has largely been waiting for federal regulators to clear the full-scale Starship for the first orbital launch attempt. It'll be no small feat — getting to orbit requires speeds that exceed 22 times the speed of sound, and to get the Starship spacecraft moving that fast, it'll ride atop a towering rocket booster, called Super Heavy, affixed with roughly 30 high-powered engines.
And even then, going to Mars entails more challenges than just building a rocket to get there.
On Thursday, SpaceX showed off the vehicle fully stacked, with the Starship spacecraft sitting atop its Super Heavy booster on the company's newly constructed orbital launch pad that lies next to a remote stretch of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Large "grabber arms" held the rocket in place, as Musk's dream of rapidly reusable rockets would entail a need for the rocket to return to its launchpad after hurling its payload into orbit.
If successful, Starship will become the most powerful rocket humanity has ever launched, boasting up to twice the power of the Saturn V rocket NASA used to take astronauts to the moon in the 1960s.
Before Starship can even get to space, however, SpaceX needs to get a thumbs up from the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial space launches in the United States.
Though SpaceX initially expected to get the all-clear by the end of 2021, according to the FAA, the environmental assessment will continue until at least February 28, 2022.
The agency cited "the high volume of comments submitted" and "discussions and consultation efforts with consulting parties" as reasons for the delay.
Musk did not provide a firm update on the anticipated approval, but said that if the FAA required a more thorough review, the company would likely shift some operations to Cape Kennedy in Florida.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk updates schedule for first orbital Starship launch
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has presented the first significant update on the company’s Starship program since September 2019, offering a couple of new details about the status of the first orbital launch attempt of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.
Unfortunately, above all else, the promised update was primarily a rehash of the broad-strokes vision of SpaceX’s Starship and Mars programs, as well as some basic details – most already known – about the rocket, its Raptor engines, and how it will be operated. Nonetheless, a large portion of the event was dedicated to audience questions, some of which actually extracted some specific details from the SpaceX CEO. Perhaps the single most important news: a rough but updated schedule for Starship’s first orbital test flight.
To be clear, a great many questions remain unanswered. Months after Starbase’s first orbital tank farm reached some degree of completion, SpaceX has yet to fill four main liquid methane (LCH4) tanks with even an ounce of fuel. Over the same period, the farm’s five liquid oxygen and nitrogen (LOx/LN2) tanks have been filled with thousands of tons of propellant and coolant. Why is still entirely unclear, save for speculation that SpaceX ran afoul of rudimentary methane storage regulations and is ever so slowly rectifying those errors with modifications. Without so much as a partially operational tank farm, SpaceX will be unable to attempt an orbital Starship launch, let alone start the process of qualifying a Super Heavy booster for flight with wet dress rehearsals (WDRs) and static fire tests.
Musk also failed to confirm or offer an educated guess as to which Starship and Super Heavy booster will support the first orbital test flight (OTF), whether the first OTF will truly reach orbit (rather than ‘just’ orbital velocity), and what will happen to Ship 20 and Booster 4 if – as a great deal of speculation suggests – they’ve fallen out of favor. If they’re to be replaced, it’s also unclear why that is or how long it might take to qualify a new ship and booster given that Super Heavy B4, for example, has yet to attempt a single static fire test a full six months after it first reached its full height.
Nonetheless, largely thanks to questions asked by members of the media, Musk did offer some valuable insight into Starship’s first orbital-class test flight. The SpaceX CEO says that he believes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could complete an environmental assessment of Starbase as early as March. In the same presentation, Musk stated that SpaceX would “hopefully [complete environmental reviews] a couple months.” A lack of environmental approval has been the single most important bottleneck of orbital Starbase launch operations for months. The FAA originally anticipated that those reviews would be complete by the end of 2021 but recently delayed the estimated date of completion to the end of February 2022. Another delay from February to March (or later) has been expected for weeks.
It’s unclear how seamless the whole process will be but SpaceX will also need to receive an FAA license for orbital Starship launches after clearing environmental reviews. That could take days, weeks, months, or even a year or more. If SpaceX doesn’t receive a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on its Starbase environmental assessment (EA) and instead has to complete a far more extensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Starbase could be stuck in bureaucratic gridlock well into 2023 or even 2024.
Thankfully, Musk is extremely confident in SpaceX’s alternatives. In the event that Starbase becomes indefinitely unusable, SpaceX has already received full environmental approval to launch Starship out of Kennedy Space Center Pad 39A. The company has already begun the process of assembling a Starship launch and catch tower offsite and Musk believes that a Pad 39A Starship launch site could be brought online in just 6-8 months if SpaceX refocuses all of its Starship resources onto Florida.
The CEO also says that SpaceX’s goal is to have the hardware needed for Starship’s first orbital test flight ready to launch around the same as regulatory approval is secured – “hopefully a couple months for both,” in Musk’s words. If Starship S20 and Booster 4 are still assigned to mission, that schedule is not difficult to believe. Starship has already completed virtually all of the ground testing needed to qualify it for flight, while – from the outside – Super Heavy has never looked more ready for static fire testing.
If SpaceX intends to use a different ship and booster, though, the company will have to cut the amount of time needed for final assembly and qualification testing by a factor of two or three relative to B4/S20. If the next ship and booster pair takes a similar amount of time as B4/S20, the hardware needed for Starship’s first orbital launch attempt might not be ready until August or September 2022. SpaceX will also need to build, test, qualify, and ship around three-dozen Raptor 2 engines, the production of which could singlehandedly take at least six or seven weeks at the current pace of production.
Ultimately, no matter where the cards currently in the air end up falling, it looks like SpaceX has an extremely busy – and hopefully fruitful – year of Starship development and testing ahead of it
SpaceX considers shifting Starship testing to Florida
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — SpaceX is prepared to shift testing of its Starship next-generation launch vehicle from Texas to Florida if there are extended delays in an ongoing environmental review, company founder and chief executive Elon Musk said Feb. 10.
In a long-awaited, and long-delayed, update about development of Starship at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, test site, Musk said he thought the Federal Aviation Administration would complete an environmental review and award SpaceX a launch license for Starship launches as soon as March.
“We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA,” he said. “We have gotten sort of a rough indication that there may be an approval in March, but that’s all we know.”
“It would obviously set us back for quite some time because an EIS takes a lot longer than an EA, so we would have to shift our priorities to Cape Kennedy,” he said, a reference to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
SpaceX previously obtained environmental approvals for Starship launches from KSC, and the company has restarted work on a launch site for Starship at Launch Complex 39A, adjacent to the existing pad now used by Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
“I guess our worst-case scenario is that we would be delayed for six to eight months to build up the Cape launch tower and launch from there,” he said.
It’s unclear, though, whether the earlier environmental review for Starship at KSC would have to be updated to take into account the current configuration of the vehicle, which has evolved significantly since the completion of that review. Any Starship launches from Launch Complex 39A would also have to work around Falcon launches there and require coordination with NASA.
In the long run, though, Musk said SpaceX expects to use KSC as a major launch site for Starship and is building a factory there to produce those vehicles. Offshore platforms would also serve as launch sites, with SpaceX currently converting two oil rigs into such platforms that could be moved as needed.
At the event, Musk thanked residents of Brownsville and South Texas for their support of the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, called Starbase, but suggested that it might not be an active operational spaceport. “It’s well suited to be our advanced R&D location, where we would try out new designs and new versions of the rocket,” he said. KSC would be the “main operational launch site” along with offshore platforms.
The event, announced with just one week’s notice, was billed as the first major update by Musk on development of Starship since a similar event in Boca Chica in September 2019. A fully stacked vehicle, with the Starship upper stage on top of a Super Heavy booster, served as the backdrop for the 75-minute presentation.
Musk said that vehicle should be ready to launch if the FAA does award a license in March. “We’re tracking to have the regulatory approval and hardware readiness around the same time,” he said. “Basically, a couple months for both.” He did not go into details, though, about what is left to do on the vehicle to have it ready for launch.
There were few major updates about Starship during the event. Musk used much of the presentation to provide a general overview of the vehicle as well as reiterating his long-held desire to use it to make humanity multiplanetary by establishing a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. The presentation included a new video with a computer animation of a Starship mission to Mars.
One topic where Musk did offer new details was about development of the Raptor engine that powers Starship. The initial Super Heavy booster has 29 Raptor engines, with future boosters hosting 33, he said. The Starship vehicle has six Raptors but could later have nine.
SpaceX is now testing a revised design called Raptor 2, which he described as an “almost complete redesign” of the engine. The new version can produce at least 230 metric tons of thrust, compared to 185 metric tons of the initial model, and could later increase to as much as 250 metric tons.
The new version is also “greatly simplified” in its design, he said, and less expensive. “Raptor 2 costs about half as much as Raptor 1 despite having much more thrust and generally being a much easier engine to build and a more robust engine.”
Raptor engine production had been a concern for Musk. In November, he warned of a “production crisis” because of problems with engine development that were “quite frankly, a disaster.” He suggested the problems even threatened the company with bankruptcy if not corrected.
Musk sounded much more upbeat about Raptor at the Boca Chica event. “The production system has a lot of momentum,” he said, expecting to produce at least seven engines a week by March. “Those are crazy numbers for rocket engines.”
Musk talked about using Starship for launches of the company’s Starlink satellites as well as the dearMoon circumlunar mission that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced in 2018. “There are some future announcements that I think people will be pretty fired up about,” he said.
Starship’s highest profile mission, though, is to land NASA astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. NASA selected Starship last April for the Human Landing System (HLS) program, supporting development of a lander version of Starship that will take astronauts to the surface of the moon and back on the Artemis 3 mission, currently scheduled for no earlier than 2025.
Musk did not go into details about progress on the lander version of Starship but argued it should not interfere with the company’s development of Starship as a launch vehicle. “I don’t think there’s really a conflict there,” he said. “We’re going to be making a lot of ships, a lot of boosters.”
“Adding legs to land on the moon, that can be done pretty quickly,” he claimed. “A high production rate solves many ills.”