On Monday, SpaceX made final preparations early to launch its powerful new Starship rocket system to space for the first time on a brief but highly anticipated uncrewed test flight from the Gulf Coast of Texas. The two-stage rocketship, standing taller than the Statue of Liberty at 394 feet (120 m) high, was due for blastoff from the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica, Texas, during a two-hour launch window that opens at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT).
The rocket is designed to carry up to 100 people on long-duration interplanetary flights. It also intends to supplant the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy fleet of super-heavy-lift rockets.
Its mammoth thrust comes from the Raptor engine, a variant of the rocket’s reusable SpaceX boosters.
SpaceX aims to make Starship fully reusable in the future, as is the case with the mighty Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
During the flight, the second stage of the Starship will separate about three minutes after liftoff and land in the Gulf of Mexico.
The FCC filing for the Starship flight describes the mission as ‘near orbital velocity,’ meaning it will be traveling at about ‘about orbital velocity’ for low Earth orbit, or just below spaceship speed,’ which is what astronauts experience on their missions to the Moon and Mars.
If all goes well, the test flight should end in a powered, targeted landing on the 69-meter (220 ft) Super Heavy booster. Then, the booster will be discarded in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Starship will splash down off the island of Kauai near the Pacific Ocean.
There’s no guarantee that this test will be successful, however. It is common for a rocket to have some failure during its initial outing.
Regardless of how it goes, this launch will give SpaceX valuable data for its following tests, which are planned for later this year. NASA plans to use a Starship-based version of its Orion spacecraft to send astronauts to the Moon in 2025.
It will also allow SpaceX to demonstrate its ability to re-enter the atmosphere and safely return to Earth on top of its booster, an important feature that will save time and money.
The test flight will last 1 1/2 hours, falling short of a complete orbit of Earth.
If the test is successful, it will be the first time a partially reusable rocket has launched from the US. In the future, SpaceX plans to reuse the entire Super Heavy booster and Starship vehicle — a feat that would take years to do with current technology.
This would make Starship much more efficient at heavy lifting.
The two-stage rocketship, which is still undergoing tests and will be refitted with Raptor engines before the test flight begins in September, has been built to be more than twice as powerful as any other rocket ever tested.