SpaceX’s inaugural missions for its next-generation Starship and Super Heavy Rocket project could take place as early as 2021, a company executive has announced.
Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, discussed the company’s plans for the Starship project at the Asia Pacific Satellite Conference in Jakarta, Space News reports. The company is already seeking out customers for its planned commercial launches in two years’ time, particularly in the telecom industry.
The project is a two-stage space vehicle: The Super Heavy Rocket is the booster which will carry the ship Starship into orbit. The aim is to replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets and the Dragon spacecraft with a single system that will be more affordable. It would deliver satellites into orbit or beyond, transport cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station, and even carry supplies and explorers to the Moon or to Mars. It could carry as many as 100 people on long-duration trips between planets.
Before the system can be made available to customers, however, SpaceX will need to perform several test flights. It already performed two “hop” tests in April, in which the vehicle fired it engine briefly and was propelled a few centimeters off the ground. The vehicle was tethered to keep it in place and consisted of just the lower section with engines, propellant tanks, and landing gear. Future tests will ensure that the vehicle can both take off and land vertically, which is important for the vehicle to be reusable.
“We have future hops coming up later this year,” Hofeller said, according to Space News. “The goal is to get orbital as quickly as possible, potentially even this year, with the full stack operational by the end of next year and then customers in early 2021.”
However, although SpaceX is hoping to make the Starship system available soon to replace the Falcon system, it will allow customers to continue to use the Falcon system if they prefer. “Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are going to be around as long as our customers want them,” Hofeller said. “If we make them obsolete by having a better product and a lower price, great.”