Elon Musk recently provided the first big update on SpaceX's Mars-bound rocket, Starship, and its competitors are watching on with "a mix of awe and horror", according to a report from Politico.
At his latest Starship presentation, SpaceX CEO Musk highlighted the fact that Starship will be reusable over and over again at a fraction of the cost of previous rockets. It's a development that threatens to leave NASA and other competitors in its wake as it launches to the proverbial stratosphere.
Starship will likely launch at a fraction of the cost of NASA's rockets
While it has long been known that Starship would be reusable, the advanced capabilities reportedly have other space organizations, including NASA, worried that their own in-development rocket projects will be rendered obsolete.
"They are shitting the bed," one top Washington space lobbyist told Politico under conditions of anonymity.
Starship is designed to be the first reusable spacecraft that will be able to take crew and cargo to the Moon and Mars before returning to Earth. By contrast, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) for its Artemis Moon landing missions has gone billions of dollars over original budget estimations and is years behind schedule. What's more, NASA estimates that an SLS mission will cost approximately $2 billion per launch, while Musk announced in his latest presentation that a Starship mission could cost a comparatively low $1 million.
Starship could render other rocket programs obsolete
That disparity between the capabilities of SpaceX's machine and the historic space innovator, NASA, could have wide-ranging implications for the space industry as a whole. It's a development that has gradually played out in recent years with SpaceX bringing crewed spaceflight back to the U.S. in 2020. Now, Starship could take things to a whole new level.
"Once [Starship's] reliability is demonstrated with a large number of flights, which could happen in a matter of months, it will obsolesce all existing launch systems," aerospace engineer and consultant Rand Simberg told Politico. "If SLS is not going to fly more than once every couple of years, it's just not going to be a significant player in the future in space, particularly when Starship is flown."
Of course, Musk has been known to make grand statements that haven't come true, and the production of his other firm Tesla's Cybertruck has faced long delays since it was first unveiled in 2019. Still, given the capabilities Starship has already shown off in test flights, and the recent promises made by Elon Musk and SpaceX, NASA and private contractors — including Northrup Grumman and Boeing — may find the status quo altered to the point they have to go back to the drawing board.