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After a brief lull during which it developed multiple rockets capable of conducting test flights, SpaceX is back as it has shipped its booster and ship for the third Starship integrated flight test (IFT-3). The delay between the second and third Starship test flights, which initially appeared to be heading towards being much shorter than the one between IFT-2 and IFT-1, has started to creep up as mid February approaches without any concrete information about a timeline.
However, soon after the FAA shared that SpaceX is yet to meet documentary requirements for third license approval, the firm shared the latest images of its new rockets that will mark yet another step in a campaign seeking to develop the world’s first pure play interplanetary transport system. At the same time, SpaceX chief Elon Musk believes that his next generation rocket will be able to reach the Moon in five years.
Elon Musk Says Starship Will Make It To The Moon In Less Than 5 Years
SpaceX’s Starship is the most consequential rocket system in the aerospace industry right now. When compared to other launch vehicles, like NASA’s Space Launch System 9SLS) or vehicles from Blue Origin and ULA, Starship is capable of hauling significantly more payload to low Earth orbit (LEO). This is necessary for its Mars missions since the rocket’s ability to carry tonnage significantly drops for them when compared to journeys to nearby destinations such as the International Space Station (ISS).
While there are little updates on the licensing front, SpaceX has picked up the pace once again with its Starship rocket development in Texas. The firm has shipped its rockets to the launch pad, and footage from local media shows that it has also stacked the massive 165 feet tall second stage Starship on the much bigger 232 feet Starship Super Heavy booster.
Flight 3 Starship and Super Heavy move to the pad at Starbase pic.twitter.com/f1RuGo3d4Z
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 10, 2024
SpaceX’s Starship development faced a significant drawback in 2023 when the first test flight saw significant damage to the launch pad. The resulting reconstruction and approval stressed the firm’s ability to achieve its test milestones for NASA’s Artemis program rapidly. However, the latest comments from Musk appear to hint that SpaceX is currently on track to meet the NASA timelines.
Since Starship has been chosen as the lander of choice for lunar missions, it has to first demonstrate uncrewed landing capabilities on the lunar surface before astronauts can use it for their missions. The crewed Starship landing is slated to take place under the NASA Artemis 3 mission in 2026, and depending on its date, it might not see humans set a new record for the maximum distance traveled from Earth.
Starship should be able to make it to the moon in less than 5 years
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 9, 2024
This distance is important when we look at Musk’s latest comments. When asked on X when humanity might break the current record for the farthest that humans have traveled from Earth, the executive shared that Starship could make it to the Moon in less than five years.
The current record sits at a little over 400,000 kilometers, and since it was set by the unfortunate Apollo 13 crew during their perilous return to Earth, Musk’s comments might also have hinted at the timeline for the dearMoon Project – one of the earliest contracts that SpaceX landed for Starship.
Footage from local media also shows that SpaceX has stacked the second stage Starship on the first stage. While this is not indicative of a test attempt, which cannot take place without the FAA’s approval, it still marks progress toward a third flight. Even though the second Starship test flight took place in November, SpaceX has test fired its rockets since then.
Not completely aligned yet, some tweaking to go, but we’re pretty much at full stack with Booster 10 and Ship 28.
— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) February 11, 2024