On Saturday (September 28th), SpaceX CEO Elon Musk held a press conference in Boca Chica, Texas, and announced that the company’s next generation rocket, Starship, will start test flights next year.
Starship will be the world’s first fully reusable rocket. Initially, it will be capable of getting a 100-ton payload to orbit, but Musk is confident it’ll be able to launch up to 150 tons over time and through further development.
‘[We need] to make space travel like air travel,’ Musk said. ‘When you fly a plane, you fly it many times.’ Since the start of human spaceflight, rockets have been discarded after one launch.
The rocket’s exterior will be made from stainless steel. The material’s resilience gets stronger under extreme cold and hot temperatures, which is perfect for launch and reentry conditions. Stainless also costs only a fraction of the amount of carbon fibre that most rockets are made from.
When returning to Earth, Starship will fall like a skydiver—using glide fins to change direction and orientation—and will land upright. The rocket will be ready for its next flight in a very short turnaround with little to no refurbishment needed.
For flights to the moon and Mars, Starship will be capable of orbital refuelling. The concept is new and is something that has never before been attempted. SpaceX and NASA are figuring it out together. Starship will park in low Earth orbit and its booster, the Super Heavy, will return home. A second craft (that is basically a giant fuel tank) will be mounted onto the same booster and then flown up to Starship. The two will dock, Starship will replenish its fuel and then continue on its journey. The giant fuel tank will return to Earth to get ready for the next mission.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 and the event took place on the eleventh anniversary of the company’s first successful flight to orbit. SpaceX are trailblazers and have really shaken up the aerospace industry over the last few years. Their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have significantly reduced launch costs.
Starship’s development is progressing at a fantastic rate. The next three prototypes—each more advanced than the previous—are expected to be completed about a month apart from one another. Musk said plans for human Starship flights are not too far away either.
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