Elon Musk shares view from the top of Starbase's high bay
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The development of SpaceX’s flagship Mars rocket has been fraught with technical problems, launchpad explosions and uphill struggles with spaceflight regulators. But the company is now well on its way towards launching a Starship prototype on a brief excursion into space. To date, SpaceX’s stainless steel prototypes have only soared to suborbital altitudes between 41,000 and 32,000ft.
But this could all change next month, according to SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell.
The SpaceX executive announced the company’s plans to push ahead with the orbital flight, aiming to fly Starship before the summer is over.
Unlike previous Starship flights, the next prototype will blast off from Earth atop a Super Heavy booster rocket – a powerful and reusable booster that will help the spacecraft escape Earth’s gravity.
Starship and Super Heavy will both launch from the company’s facility in Boca Chica, South Texas, which SpaceX chief Elon Musk aims to rename Starbase.
Ms Shotwell appeared at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference (ISDC) on Friday, where she shed some light on SpaceX’s Starship plans.
Among the most exciting developments are SpaceX’s plans to launch Starship next month.
She said: “We are headed for our first orbital attempt in the not-too-distant future. We’re shooting for July.
“I am hoping we make it but we all know this is difficult.
“We are really on the cusp of flying that system, or at least attempting the first orbital flight of that system, in the very near term.”
Elon Musk discusses future of SpaceX's Starship system
Mr Musk hinted at an orbital launch in July earlier this year, updating his fans before the doomed flight of the Starship SN11.
The South African billionaire also appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast where he said the Starship system could be fully operational by the year 2023.
He said: “We’re trying to make life multi-planetary, you know, extend life beyond Earth, and in order to do that you have to have high tonnage to Mars.
“And that means you need a big rocket and you gotta fly a lot.”
The ultimate goal is to put boots on the Red Planet – a goal Mr Musk thinks can be achieved in the next five years.
SpaceX’s last test flight took place on May 5, with the Starship SN15 or Serial Number 15 prototype.
The 160ft-tall rocket flew to an altitude of about 32,000ft after which it graciously dropped back down to the ground.
The spacecraft performed an ambitious “belly flop” manoeuvre, using nothing but four fins on its side to guide its descent.
Then, just before crashing into the ground, SN15 flipped upright again and fired two of its three Raptor engines for a soft landing.
SN15 was the first Starship prototype to survive the test flight unscathed, landing in one piece.
SpaceX fans were hoping to see SN15 attempt another launch and landing to prove it wasn’t a lucky fluke.
But the rocket was retired and SpaceX shifted its attention to the SN16 model.
The spacecraft and booster will launch from an orbital launchpad that is being assembled at Boca Chica.
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