Speaking on August 28th, CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s first Starship flight test(s) could occur as early as October 2019, in line with a late-July estimate that pegged the milestone at 2-3 months out.
Under construction in Cocoa, Florida and Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX’s duo of orbital-class Starship prototypes have made immense progress in the last two or so months, part of a (hopefully friendly) internal competition to be first to flight and first to orbit. Elon Musk has been planning to present an updated overview on the next-generation SpaceX launch vehicle, originally expected in August before a variety of factors pushed it into September. Musk says that presentation is now scheduled no earlier than (NET) September 28th.
Musk has previously described the highly-anticipated update as a technical overview of the decision-making process that has lead SpaceX to replace Starship’s composite design with stainless steel, among many other changes the rocket has undergone in the last 6-12 months. Aside from the obvious, Musk recently revealed that Starship’s fins/legs/wings also had to be modified from the tripod fin/canard setup shown in SpaceX’s September 2018 design update.
The first of Starship Mk1’s (Texas) landing fins or canards arrived in Boca Chica in mid-August, followed soon after by what appeared to be header tanks (smaller internal tanks for landing propellant), and what has been described as “the guts of Starship”. Although SpaceX’s Starship Mk2 (Cocoa, FL) team was forced to pause work for several days as a result of the incoming Hurricane Dorian, work in Texas has proceeded unabated and continues around the clock with two or three shifts.
Starship Mk1’s triple-Raptor thrust structure was installed inside the vehicle’s tank section several weeks ago. Workers are now in the process of installing the Starship’s common bulkhead, a dome that will separate its liquid oxygen and methane tanks, and a third and final dome – the top of Starship’s LOx tank – is in the late stages of assembly.
In short, SpaceX’s Mk1 Starship continues to maintain an absolutely blistering pace of progress and could very well be ready in time for Musk’s proposed October flight debut, despite the fact that the CEO is more than a little infamous for his near-impossible deadlines and schedules.
Starship’s first flight
Musk says that Starship’s first flight – likely featuring the Mk1 vehicle – or a subsequent test flight could see the spacecraft prototype reach an altitude of 20 km (12 mi/~64,000 ft), indicating that SpaceX plans to transition into high-altitude, high-velocity testing as soon as possible.
Incredibly, Musk also stated that Starship’s inaugural orbital launch attempt could come “shortly thereafter”, an attempt that – according to previous statements from Musk – would demand the completion of the first Super Heavy booster, as well as the 20+ Raptor engines it would require. Musk estimated that Raptor will reach orbital flight-readiness as early as October or November, while an orbital flight test before the end of 2019 would technically mesh with his late-July estimate of December/January.
Whether or not SpaceX manages to achieve that almost unbelievably ambitious target, it seems entirely plausible that – barring unforeseen developments – Starship Mk1 and Mk2 will be ready for flight testing well before the end of 2019. Stay tuned for updates as Starship assembly continues in Texas and Florida.
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