Elon Musk offers a review of Starship, the philosophy behind the colonization of Mars

YesYou too could die for a good cause on Mars, Elon Musk said at a SpaceX press event early Friday morning that was billed as a major update on the company’s Starship spacecraft, but was more of a sales pitch and a philosophical mission statement.

During an event broadcast live from the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Mr. Musk spoke on a stage with the recently fully stacked Starship and Super Heavy booster, but mostly covered the technical details already known. of the vehicle and its philosophical justifications for the construction. a rocket that he hopes will help found a city on Mars.

“The selling point for going to Mars is that it will be cramped, dangerous, difficult, very hard work and you could die,” Musk said. “That’s the sales pitch. I hope you like.”

Originally announced in 2017, the first prototype spacecraft was revealed in 2019, and Musk said then that he hoped the spacecraft would make an orbital test flight that year. But Starship hasn’t made any orbital test flights and can’t until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completes and approves an environmental study. Starbase reviews.

“We had a rough indication that there might be an approval in March,” Musk said, in response to a question after his presentation.

The presentation focused on the current state of Starship, a remarkably reflective stainless steel spacecraft 50 meters high and nine meters wide. Combined with the 70-meter-tall Super Heavy Booster and the Starship serving as the upper stage, the combined launch vehicle soars 120 meters above the Texas desert.

The SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy booster fully stacked at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.

(AFP via Getty Images)

With the booster using up to 33 Raptor engines, the combined launch vehicle is expected to produce approximately 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the Moon, and will be capable of place 150 tons of payload in low Earth orbit. If Starship becomes operational, it will be the largest and most powerful rocket ever, surpassing even NASA’s new moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will carry up to 130 tons into low Earth orbit in its most powerful setup.

But unlike the Saturn V or SLS, Starship and the Super Heavy Booster are meant to be completely and quickly reusable. Mr. Musk proudly pointed out the launch tower that SpaceX has spent the last 13 months building at Starbase, which will not only stabilize Starship at launch, but is intended to catch the autonomously piloted Super Heavy booster when it returns from each launch. .

“It only takes about two minutes for the ascent and then about four minutes for the return,” Musk said. “In theory, the booster is capable of being reused every hour.”

Such rapid reusability is key to Mr. Musk’s plans with Starship, not just in terms of his dream of building a colony on Mars, but in terms of changing the space launch industry, comparing existing rockets to airplanes. which were destroyed after each flight.

“If planes were not reusable, how much would a plane ticket cost?” Mr. Musk said. Spacecraft launches could eventually cost as little as $10 million per flight, he said.

All-important questions of cost and revenue aside, Mr Musk took the time to explain why he thought it was important to build a human settlement on Mars, before showing a video depicting Starship space vehicles carrying astronauts in SpaceX spacesuits to the Martian. surface in front of a glass-domed, illuminated Martian city.

“I think it’s just an incredibly important thing for the future of life itself,” Musk said. Something could wipe out life on Earth, like an asteroid did the dinosaurs, and eventually the Sun will expand and destroy all life on Earth regardless.

“It’s very important – critical that in the long run we become a multiplanetary species and even go beyond the solar system and bring life with us,” Musk said. “The creatures we love… They can’t build spaceships, but we can. And we can bring them with us.

But even ambitious plans to make science fiction a permanent reality have to deal with bureaucratic procedure. If the FAA does not approve Starship operations in Boca Chica, Musk said SpaceX would move operations to Cape Kennedy, Florida, which could delay the orbital test flight he said SpaceX could perform this year.

It’s unclear whether such a delay could impact one of SpaceX’s customers, NASA, which has contracted SpaceX to build a human landing system for the space agency’s mission to bring humans back. on the moon in 2025. SpaceX plans to use a modified craft as a lunar craft. lander, but the spacecraft will require multiple refills of liquid oxygen for the trip, a never-before-tried procedure of using an additional Starship spacecraft to refill the orbiting lunar lander craft.

SpaceX has yet to test such a refill system, but Musk said he’s optimistic testing could begin by the end of 2023.

“I would be surprised if it took more than two years to do the filling,” he said.

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