Left: A Starship prototype flies. Right: Elon Musk.
SpaceX; Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images
SpaceX is developing a new mega-rocket called Starship. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, wants it to carry people to Mars – and NASA has chosen the vehicle to land the next astronauts on the moon.
Starship could fly its first humans in “a couple years,” Musk said in a press briefing on Friday, after SpaceX launched its third astronaut mission for NASA.
“I tend to be somewhat optimistic with respect to schedules. I feel I should acknowledge this,” Musk said, laughing. “So take that with a grain of salt. But I think it’s not out of the question that it could fly people in a couple years.”
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked tickets for him and eight others to board a week-long Starship flight around the moon in 2023. The group is set to become the first civilian passengers on a Starship mission.
The spaceship has a long way to go, though.
An illustration of SpaceX’s planned 39-story Starship rocket system launching from Boca Chica, Texas.
SpaceX has been launching its most advanced Starship prototypes miles above its rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. So far, the test flights have all ended in explosions.
The Starships seem to flawlessly launch, soar toward the stratosphere, and shut off their engines – then flip onto their bellies and use wing flaps to control their falls back to Earth. They’ve all had difficulty landing.
The first two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the ground at high speed and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later. The fourth, SN11, exploded in midair as it relit its engines to flip upright for landing.
“Obviously we need to, like, not be making craters,” Musk said, referring to the explosions. “We’ve got some work to do, but we’re making rapid progress.”
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