- SpaceX is prepping for the first orbital launch of Starship, the cornerstone rocket for Elon Musk’s Mars ambitions.
- Musk estimated 50% odds of success and hinted the rocket could blow up on the first orbital attempt.
- Other Starships are waiting in the wings and one of them will likely reach orbit this year, he said.
SpaceX is preparing to launch its Starship mega-rocket toward orbit for the first time, kicking off CEO Elon Musk‘s ambitious scheme to eventually build an independent human settlement on Mars.
Musk has said that SpaceX is ready to launch Starship from its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas — an area the company calls “Starbase” — once it receives a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
As with any first launch, though, a small flaw in the rocket’s intricate hardware or software engineering could easily make everything go wrong.
In an interview at the Morgan Stanley Conference on March 7, Musk said the rocket has a 1 in 2 chance of not reaching orbit.
“I’m not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement,” he said, adding: “Won’t be boring!”
“I think it’s got, I don’t know, hopefully about a 50% chance of reaching orbit,” Musk said, adding that SpaceX is building multiple Starship rockets and that overall, there’s about an 80% chance one of them will reach orbit this year.
If the history of Starship’s suborbital test flights tells us anything, it’s that a failure to reach orbit could mean the rocket blows up.
Starship has exploded before, but its future could be bright
If successful, the launch will prove the world’s first fully reusable orbital rocket, setting the stage for SpaceX to revolutionize the orbital economy.
Starship and its 230 ft-tall booster, Super Heavy, are both designed to land themselves back on Earth to fly again another day.
That’s a major money-saving measure, since SpaceX would not have to build a new upper stage for every rocket launch. Starship is also designed to haul giant payloads into space, up to 250 metric tonnes of payload into orbit, up to 150 metric tonnes if the rocket is to be reused, per the SpaceX website.
This would increase efficiency to make it cheaper to send satellites, spacecraft, cargo, and people into Earth’s orbit and beyond, to the moon and Mars.
Starship’s promise of reusability and sheer flight power has made it attractive to NASA, which selected the vehicle to land its astronauts on the moon again for the first time since 1972. The agency aims to achieve that historic moon landing in the mid-2020s.
First, though, Starship has to orbit Earth and return safely. Two years ago, SpaceX completed a series of test flights, launching Starship prototypes six miles into the air above Boca Chica.
The first four exploded, with only one sticking the landing before it blew up.
Finally, the fifth Starship prototype roared 33,000 feet into the air, cut its engines to plunge back toward Earth, then reignited them just in time to flip itself upright and lower gently onto the landing pad.
Starship hasn’t flown since. Its first attempt to fly to orbit will be its biggest test yet.