Things are looking pretty good for Elon Musk and SpaceX, the company he founded back in 2002 with the intent of reinvigorating space exploration. In the last six months alone, SpaceX has deployed the first batch of its Starlink broadband internet satellites to space, conducted two successful untethered tests with the Starship Hopper, and finished work on the first orbital-class Starship test vehicle (the Mk.1).
And at the 70th International Astronautical Congress, which took place last week in Washington, DC, SpaceX president and Chief Operations Officer Gwynne Shotwell provided additional details about the Starship‘s mission timeline. As she indicated during a series of interviews, the company hopes to be sending the Starship to orbit next year, landing on the Moon by 2022, and sending payloads to the lunar surface by 2024.
As Shotwell was quoted as saying by TechCrunch:
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“Aspirationally, we want to get Starship to orbit within a year. We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to […] stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the folks that ultimately land on the Moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational time frame.”
The two Starship prototypes (Mk.1 and Mk.2), are being developed at their South Texas Launch Site in Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in Florida, respectively. The Mk.1 was unveiled at a press conference back in September (during the company’s 11th anniversary) where Musk presented the latest updates on the Starship’s design and the company’s proposed timeline.
If this is starting to sound familiar, that’s probably because it’s entirely like Elon Musk himself to be optimistic with timelines. And while SpaceX has not always met the deadlines Musk has set in the past, they have managed to deliver on all of their promises – from the development of reusable first stage rockets and the creation of the Falcon Heavy to the recovery of payload fairings and the deployment of broadband satellites.
And as Shotwell touched on during her onstage interview at the 2019 IAC, Musk’s ambitious nature is an essential part of their success:
“Elon puts out these incredibly audacious goals and people say ‘You’re not going to do it, you’ll never get to orbit, you’ll never get a real rocket to orbit, […] you’ll never get Heavy to orbit, you’ll never get Dragon to the station, you’ll never get Dragon back, and you’ll never land a rocket,’. So, frankly, I love when people say we can’t do it, because it motivates my fantastic 6,500 employees to go do that thing.”
Speaking of ambitious, Musk has already stated that he hopes to conduct high-altitude test flights using the Mk.1 and Mk.2 sometime next year. Once this is complete, the company will be constructing additional prototypes for launch to Low Earth Orbit and, eventually, crewed test flights. In recent years, he’s also revealed details about the first lunar tourism mission that is tentatively scheduled by 2023 (in a campaign called #dearmoon).
Already, SpaceX has contracted with Intuitive Machines and ispace, two commercial aerospace companies that have signed with NASA to deliver payloads to the Moon. These contracts are part of the agency’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) program, which is seeking partners to provide logistical support in advance of the Artemis missions, which are scheduled to send astronauts there by 2024.
These agreements specify that SpaceX will be providing launch services using its fleet of Falcon 9 rockets. However, SpaceX made it known some time ago that the Starship and Super Heavy launch system will be replacing their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets as the company’s workhouse.
Sending cargo and passengers to the Moon will also be a major step towards fulfilling Musk’s ultimate vision, which is establishing a human settlement on Mars. If all goes according to plan and in a timely manner, Musk hopes to have this settlement up and running by 2028 – yet another optimistic and ambitious goal!
Further Reading: TechCrunch