Elon Musk’s silver vision of sending humans to the moon and Mars stands next to a 480-foot launch tower in South Point, Texas. It’s a new SpaceX rocket called Starship that’s more powerful than any vehicle that’s ever gone into space.
As early as Monday morning, SpaceX will attempt to launch the Starship prototype into space for the first time.
“We really want to get this rocket up,” Musk said in an audio discussion with Twitter users on Sunday night.
Here’s what you need to know about your flight.
When is Starship launching, and how can I watch it?
Starship and the Super Heavy booster that will launch it into orbit are scheduled to load up with propellant early Monday morning at SpaceX’s test site outside Brownsville, Texas. The launch site, which SpaceX calls Starbase, is near the Gulf of Mexico.
SpaceX scheduled the flight as early as 8 a.m. ET, and it could launch anytime between then and 10:30 a.m. ET.The company said it would begin live streaming on its youtube channel 45 minutes before the rocket is ready for liftoff.
If something goes wrong and SpaceX can’t launch on Monday, it will keep trying throughout the week.Although the launch site look hazy Sunday afternoon, SpaceX says The weather looks “pretty good tomorrow morning, but we’re keeping a close eye on windshear.”
But Mr Musk set lower expectations for Monday’s launch, suggesting it could be called off for technical reasons.
“It’s very likely that it will be delayed because we’re going to be taking this launch very carefully,” he said. “If it does get it wrong, it will get it wrong a lot.”
What is a starship?
It’s the tallest rocket ever built—at 394 feet, it’s nearly 90 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, including its pedestal.
It has the most engines of any rocket booster: Super Heavy, the lower part of the rocket that launches Starship into orbit, has 33 of SpaceX’s powerful Raptor engines sticking out of its base. They are capable of generating 16 million pounds of thrust at full throttle, far more than the Saturn V that carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Starship is designed to be fully reusable. With the Super Heavy landing much like the boosters on SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rocket, Starship will be able to return from space like a skydiver, belly-dive through the atmosphere before turning to a vertical position for landing.
Why is SpaceX building Starship?
SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket is the most frequently launched rocket in the world. It has launched 24 times in 2023, most recently on Friday night.
Starship is the next step. It can carry more cargo and more people than a Falcon 9. And because it’s fully reusable, Starship could dramatically reduce the cost of launching payloads into orbit.
NASA is paying SpaceX to build a vehicle to carry astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface on the Artemis III and IV missions a decade later. The spacecraft is also at the heart of Mr Musk’s vision to send humans to Mars.
What happens during the flight?
In Monday’s test flight, Starship will fly a distance around Earth, departing from Texas and landing in the ocean near Hawaii.
Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to regularly land the Super Heavy booster and Starship orbiter so they can be reused for future launches. But the spacecraft flying Monday will crash and sink in the ocean. They are the first tests of the vehicle, and the data will allow engineers to fix what isn’t working and make improvements.
A key goal of the flight, Mr. Musk said on Sunday night, was to keep the rocket at a distance from the launch site without any problems.
“Just don’t blow up the launch pad,” he said.
About eight minutes after Monday’s launch, the Super Heavy booster will splash into the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship vehicle will soar higher into space, reaching an altitude of about 150 miles and orbiting Earth before re-entering the atmosphere. If it can re-enter the atmosphere within about 90 minutes of launch, it will splash into the Pacific Ocean about 62 miles north of Kauai.
But with all the new systems in Starship, the SpaceX founder acknowledged the difficulty of achieving all of the flight goals.
“There are a million ways this rocket could fail,” Mr Musk said. “I could go on for hours.”