SpaceX has received clearance to launch its Starship as soon as Monday. This brings space tourism ever closer.
Starship Launch Slated For Monday, April 17th, 2023
The day has finally come for SpaceX and Elon Musk and though he can’t ensure his Starship will achieve a soft landing; he is guaranteeing excitement.
Success maybe, excitement guaranteed! https://t.co/LoDrBmHkQa
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 14, 2023
While the Starship itself has already been successfully (and many times unsuccessfully) tested and flown “Starbase” in Boca Chica, Texas, this is the first time that its full potential will be seen. Underneath the Starship is a power plant the world has never seen. The super heavy booster will separate from Starship powered by 33 Raptor engines powered by liquid methane. The rocket is so powerful that it is designed to reach Mars from Texas in nine months.
This orbital launch of the stainless steel vessel will reach Earth orbit before landing somewhere near Hawaii. This will be the first test flight of the full stack (not just the Starship by itself) and has been in the works for years. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a launch license for the tests and granted privileges that only Cape Canaveral enjoys with respect to other traffic in the area but this followed an extensive environmental study that among other things examined the rockets effects on birds.
Unlike current rockets, including SpaceX’s own Falcon with the Dragon Crew at the top, the Starship will be able to hold an incredible amount of cargo and personnel. The Dragon Crew with its human landing system can carry just 4 passengers, while the Starship can carry up to 100. When utilized for cargo missions, the cost and volume that can be delivered to not only satellites reaching orbit but onward to the moon is a category shift that can make colonization a real possibility for long-term spacefaring prospects.
Why Does This Matter?
Over the last 20 years, the new space race has pitted billionaires against each other in an effort to commercialize space travel, tourism, and industry. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has sold thousands of seats but is yet to fly a paying passenger (just employees and Sir Richard himself took the first flight last summer.)
Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to colonize Mars but has also revolutionized the satellite market along the way – his short-term mission is to lower the cost of space flight by a factor of ten using reusable rockets. As of last year, the average launch price had dropped about 40% from $100 million to about $60 million on its way to $10 million.
Jeff Bezos and his West Texas-based Blue Origin want to put heavy industry in space to reduce pollution and treat Earth more like a park.
It’s all so important because it accomplishes a few very interesting goals. First, by competing, these companies (and new competitors for different products like Space Perspective) create much more realistic options for travelers who want to leave Earth, or at a minimum, see space for themselves from very high altitudes. While $28 million that Blue Origin charged a man for a seat on its climb to 10 minutes of zero gravity is not really a cost savings and is out of reach for most, there’s no doubt that costs will drop as technology improves.
Starship moves that needle in a big, meaningful way. Orders of magnitude will lower the cost of space travel and greater frequency will help normalize travel beyond earth.
It’s not just trips to space, Starship has also been modeled for trips that do leave the atmosphere but are intended for global travel like New York to Tokyo in about 30 minutes (hedged to say less than an hour.) Eschewing the traditional launch pad, the tower that supports Starship is equipped with giant arms that can “catch” the ship and a new booster can be moved in underneath. He’d like to get that turn time to about an hour.
The Starship makes possible such lofty goals as space hotels, colonization, orbital construction, and broader space tourism. Success on tomorrow’s launch could usher in not only a new era for travel but for all of humanity. Or it could end in a spectacular but firey mess, but as least as Musk has put it: excitement guaranteed.
What do you think? Will SpaceX Starship usher in a new era of travel or humanity?