Elon Musk has given SpaceX’s first huge Starship update in years, and during his presentation, the company showed off what a launch with the massive launch system would look like. The Starship system is composed of the Starship spacecraft itself on top of a Super Heavy booster. SpaceX is working towards making it rapidly and fully reusable so as to make launches to the Moon and to Mars feasible. After making its way outside our planet, the booster will break off and return to its launch tower, where it will ideally be caught by the tower arms. As for the spacecraft, it will proceed to its destination before making its way back to Earth.
Musk said the booster will spend six minutes in the air over all, two upon ascent and four for its return trip. In the future, the system could be reused every six to eight hours for three launches a day. SpaceX says achieving a fully and rapidly reusable system is “key to a future in which humanity is out exploring the stars.” Musk also talked about how in-orbit refilling — not “refueling,” since the vehicle’s Raptor engines use more liquid oxygen than fuel — is essential for long-duration flights.
The Super Heavy booster, Musk said, has more than twice the thrust of a Saturn V, the largest rocket to ever head to space so far. In its current iteration, it has 29 Raptor engines, but it could eventually have 33. Speaking of those engines, Raptor version 2 is a complete redesign of the first, costs half as much and needs fewer parts. The company is capable of manufacturing five to six a week at the moment, but it could apparently be capable of producing as many as seven by next month.
Aside from being able to carry hundreds of tons, the Starship could revolutionize space travel if SpaceX can truly make launches as affordable as Musk said it could. He revealed during the event that a Starship launch could cost les than $10 million per flight, all in, within two to three years. That’s significantly less than a Falcon 9 launch that costs around $60 million.
SpaceX wants to launch the Starship from its Boca Chica, Texas facility called Starbase, where it’s been building the rocket’s prototype. It has yet to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to do so, and Musk said the company doesn’t know where things stand with the agency exactly. However, there’s apparently a rough indication that the FAA will be come with its environmental assessment in March. SpaceX also expects the rocket to be ready by then, which means Starship’s first orbital test flight could be on the horizon.