Elon Musk says Starship could be orbital by March 2022

And an environmental assessment is the last hurdle before launch.
Ameya Paleja
Mars will soon be within reach.Elon Musk/Twitter

With the world's biggest rocket engine ever built in the works, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk provided the first official update on the company's Starship in over two years and said he was confident that the rocket would go orbital this year. 

At 394 feet (120 m) and 75 meganewtons of thrust, Starship, when launched, will leave the Saturn V rocket that put the first humans on the Moon, far behind in size and capability. The rocket consists of a first-stage booster called SuperHeavy and then the second-stage spacecraft that ferry uncrewed and crewed missions to Mars, as SpaceX aims to build human colonies there. The spacecraft's fuel consists of liquid methane and liquid oxygen, which according to Musk can be sourced on the Red Planet as well, Space reported.

The first major test

However, before it can take these ambitious trips Starship needs to first demonstrate that it can reach Earth's orbit. SpaceX needs to pass an environmental impact assessment of Starbase, its Boca Chica facility in Texas, from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before it can make this attempt. Musk expects this assessment to be completed by this month-end.

In case the assessment does not end up in SpaceX's favor, Starship could still be launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, delaying the launch. Given its towering height, which is twice as much as SpaceX's own Falcon Heavy rockets, the company will first have to build a launch tower at KSC.

Starship's first major test includes a 90-minute trip around the Earth during which both the SuperHeavy and the spacecraft will be ditched in the sea. For future missions, however, SpaceX plans to recover both the stages and has even built a catch tower that will catch the SuperHeavy mid-flight as it nears the landing site.

Raptors and more launch sites

Although updates about Musk's companies usually come from his tweets, the presentation also offered some new information about Starship. Space.com reported that the SuperHeavy will now have 33 Raptor engines instead of the 29 that were previously announced. Even Starship is set to receive a total of nine Raptor engines as compared to six in SpaceX's original design.

Musk also announced that apart from Starbase and KSC, SpaceX was planning on adding two more sites launch sites for Starship. Named Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, these sites are former deepwater oil rigs that the company would convert into offshore launch platforms by the end of the year.

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