SpaceX's launch vehicle scheduled to take humans back to the Moon is expected to make its first orbital flight as early as January 2022.
Speaking in a video call at the fall meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, CEO Elon Musk said that SpaceX is scheduled to carry out some tests in December, ahead of Starship's first orbital flight in January, Business Insider reported.
The biggest launch vehicle built to date, SpaceX's Starship consists of two parts, a first stage booster called Super Heavy and the actual spacecraft that gives it the name, Starship. Both these components are powered by SpaceX's Raptor engines but differ in capacities. When finally ready, the Super Heavy is expected to have 33 Raptor engines while the spacecraft will have just six. Both components are designed to be reusable and are expected to play an important role in taking humankind to Moon, Mars, and even beyond, Space reported.
Musk, known for setting ambitious deadlines had first set a goal for Starship's maiden voyage in 2019. When that did not occur, the date was moved to 2021. However, interest in the vehicle only picked up when earlier this year, NASA announced it as the transporter for the 2024 crewed Moon mission. Even as NASA has pushed back the Moon landing by another year, Starship seems to be making decent progress.
In May, Starship serial number 15 (SN15) completed a high-altitude test powered by just three Raptor engines and reached a maximum altitude of about six miles (10 km). The current version SN20 assembled and being tested at SpaceX's facility in Texas has the entire set of six engines for the spacecraft and a near-complete set of 29 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy. After liftoff, the booster will fall back into the Gulf of Mexico, but SN20 will orbit Earth once and then return back in the Pacific Ocean, Space.com reported.
That's the plan. As Musk himself said during the call, there are a lot of risks associated with the first launch and he does not expect it to be a success. However, the company has plans to do a dozen or even more orbital flights in the calendar year and is confident of reaching orbit in 2022, Business Insider reported.
Musk expects Starship to be an important player in sending humankind to Moon, Mars, and beyond but suggests that we will need thousands of Starships to achieve that goal. SpaceX is already advancing in that direction by making lots of Raptor engines and Starships at its McGregor facility in Texas, Musk said during his interaction.