Posted BY: Insider
Elon Musk aims to get SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket into orbit for the first time next month in a launch he hopes will revolutionize the space industry.
After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week concluded its environmental review into SpaceX’s Texas launch site plans, the billionaire said his company will have Starship ready to fly next month.
Starship is a fully reusable rocket that SpaceX wants to send to the Earth’s orbit and outer space. Launching the 120-meter vehicle would take NASA a step closer to returning to the Moon and allow Musk to achieve his dream of building a colony on Mars.
Even though the FAA found no significant environmental impact with SpaceX’s launch site in Boca Chica, the company still has to take more than 75 actions listed in the agency’s 43-page review. With July just days away, experts in the space industry aren’t convinced Starship will be ready to launch by then.
Greg Autry, a commercial space industry expert, told Insider that many of the FAA’s 75 terms are “very trivial, non-engineering requirements” that can be completed at the same time as others.
But he said Musk assumes everyone doing the job is a clone of himself, or someone who is “a genius that basically never stops working. I would bet late July is technically possible, but I’d put my own money on August or September.”
Musk’s timelines are always too optimistic, Autry added, something which the SpaceX CEO has admitted himself in the past.
SpaceX and Musk have predicted various dates for the Starship launch. These included July and November last year, as well as January 2022. Musk’s latest prediction was made in February when he said he was confident that Starship would get into orbit this year.
For Olivier de Weck, professor of engineering systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it all comes down to two questions: can all the technical work be done before July, and does SpaceX have the launch permit?
Like Autry, de Weck also said most of the FAA’s 75 actions are relatively small, such as collecting rocket debris that falls and donating $5,000 to organizations that protect endangered birds of prey and ocelots.
“My guess is that SpaceX is going to work on these [terms] in parallel because they have motivated, knowledgeable staff that work 80 hours a week,” he said. “One week at SpaceX is like a month at a normal company.”
De Weck said he wasn’t sure if SpaceX could complete all the work in July.
“If it’s not July, it’s going to be this summer — maybe August, September,” de Weck said, adding there’s a 75% to 80% probability that the first Starship launch will happen this summer.
Adam Baker, co-founder of UK Launch Services and an expert in rocket systems, picked up on the fact that Musk tweeted SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship to orbit in July, but not that it would actually do so.
It first requires a launch license, he said, but the FAA was not likely to issue one until all 75 actions have been met.
“Starship has the potential to change the way we do space travel, and that won’t come without some environmental consequences, so there is a weighing up needed,” Baker added.