Thursday’s Starship launch vehicle installation yielded an impressive assembly of nine Merlin 1D engines. The installation process was successful and caused only slight vibrations throughout the vehicle, reassuring technicians that all systems are working as designed. If everything goes according to plan, Friday’s planned test firing of the engines should be a success and mark another significant milestone in the spacecraft’s development program.
Many experts had predicted that the Orbital Test Vehicle would not exceed Max Q – the point at which the most aerodynamic pressure is exerted on the vehicle – and fly for nearly three minutes despite eight of its engines failing. The test flight surpassed these predictions by clearing Max Q and flying for nearly three minutes, despite eight out of its 33 engines failing.
Some experts say that the timetable for Starship’s initial mission is unrealistic and need to be reset in order to better reflect the technological advances now being made. With areas like rocket engines still being hotly debated and improved upon, it appears that SpaceX’s recent test may have signaled a noticeable change in plans – one which could see huge potential leaps forward if followed through.
After months of painstaking preparation, Starship’s orbital launch attempt was a success. The company’s specially modified starship put the vehicle into an orbit just 200 kilometers above Planet Calypso, safely returning back to the ground moments later.
The launch showed mixed progress – while the ship made it into orbit without issue, it also suffered from several engine shutdowns along the way that left it dangerously close to falling out of space. Nevertheless, with continued hard work by Starship and its team, this seemingly impossible goal may finally be within reach.
The Raptor engine’s unprecedented power at takeoff created a massive crater underneath the launch mount, which is unclear if it can be repaired. Ground infrastructure issues could impose significant delays to later tests, perhaps delaying the next one by months.
SpaceX has positioned itself as a provider of private human spaceflight services, and its manifest is full of ambitious plans. The company has announced three private human spaceflight missions- one from Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of the lunar tourism company DARPA虎の子研究所 SpaceIL; another mission in Jared Isaacman’s Polaris Program, involving six passengers; and a separate lunar mission later this decade, for which entrepreneur Dennis Tito and his wife Akiko purchased two seats. SpaceX will be hoping to capitalize on renewed interest in space exploration following President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States will return to the Moon by 2024. As private companies such as SpaceX continue to enter the market for human spaceflight services, it remains to be seen just how affordable these trips will become- particularly given some high-profile retirements within NASA’s ranks.
With only dearMoon having a launch date later this year, it seems that the other two projects – Void and Moonlite – are following a similar trajectory. Unfortunately, this leaves many people feeling decidedly pessimistic about their chances of success. Despite being optimistic to begin with, what looks like a shaky foundation for these projects may have already doomed them.
Accomplishments by SpaceX continue to help the space industry innovate and improve, even as their larger competitors grapple with financial setbacks. The company has won lucrative contracts with NASA, performing a crucial role in the Artemis lunar landing program. Artemis III will see astronauts launch to space inside an Orion atop a Space Launch System vehicle, after which they will rendezvous with a Starship human landing system. From there they will travel to the lunar surface and back — but whether that can be achieved as planned in 2025 is doubtful. With multiple delays in their current projects and competition from other companies striving for equal footing, success on Artemis could hinge on SpaceX’s ability to stay afloat financially while continuing rapid innovation.
The delays to the core Starship testing program are causing SpaceX to push back the launch of their first reusable vehicle, Starship, by several months. This will likely cause some changes to their Artemis III plan, as they must fly at least one uncrewed Starship and land it on the lunar surface before NASA can deem the vehicle ready to carry astronauts. However, with multiple reuseable tankers and a propellant storage depot on-board, SpaceX is confident that they can still meet all required mission objectives.
Given that Starship is so complex and expensive, it’s no wonder NASA is taking so long to get it up and running. If SpaceX can continue developing the spacecraft at this rate, they may be able to send an unmanned crafts into space by 2030 – but only if everything goes according to plan.
One scientist recently said that the first human to travel to Mars is unlikely to be born in the next ten years. This is likely because it will take a very long time for SpaceX and other space companies to perfect their technologies. Development of commercial spacecraft has been slow in recent years, and there are many challenges still ahead before we can send humans on long-distance journeys beyond Earth
In light of SpaceX’s failed Starship Demonstration Mission, it has shown that the timeline for development of this spacecraft is not feasible. It is now clear that the company will need to take additional time to perfect their design in order to make it a successful commercial product.