The two-stage rocket ship, taller than the Statue of Liberty, lifted off from Elon Musk’s Starbase launch pad near Boca Chica, Texas, east of Brownsville. The roar of powerful engines was accompanied by cheers and applause from the control center. The launch of the rocket was watched by the head of SpaceX, the American billionaire Elon Musk.
The plan was for the rocket complex to circle almost the entire Earth in about 90 minutes to the area north of the Hawaiian Islands, where the Starship spacecraft was supposed to land in the Pacific Ocean.
The first test flight ended in an explosion four minutes after takeoff this April. “In tests like this, success depends on what we learn, and today’s test will help improve the reliability of Starship as SpaceX pursues multiplanetary life,” the company tweeted.
SpaceX called the April fiasco a “rapid unplanned deployment” and echoed the same words in a live broadcast regarding the Super Heavy today. The Starship spacecraft successfully ignited its rocket engines and reached the edge of space for the first time on its eastward journey, but it stopped transmitting data eight minutes after liftoff. At that moment, it reached a speed of over 24,000 kilometers per hour and a height of 148 kilometers from the earth’s surface.
“We’ve lost data from the second stage … we think we may have lost the second stage,” SpaceX livestream host John Insprucker was quoted as saying by Reuters.
SpaceX is going much further
Founded in 2002, SpaceX has become a major player in launching cargo into space. But Musk is aiming even further, today’s only partially successful launch of the Super Heavy launch vehicle with the Starship spacecraft is one of the steps to bring people not only to the Moon, but also to Mars.
Musk’s rocket is slightly taller and much heavier than the Saturn V, which took American astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rocket used half a century ago was 110 meters tall and weighed almost 3000 tons, the Super Heavy with the Starship is even ten meters taller and weighs 5000 tons. It should transport up to 100 people or 150 tons of cargo into orbit.
But the plans for Starship are big, the ship is supposed to transport people not only to the moon, but also to enable a trip to Mars. Like other space programs, however, Starship has been delayed. Czech artist, producer and choreographer Yemi AD should also go on a trip around the moon as part of the eight-member crew
Flights far beyond the limits of the Earth’s orbit were at the beginning of the company Space Explorations Technologies, better known by the abbreviation SpaceX. It was actually born from Musk’s idea to build a small greenhouse on Mars and thus draw the public’s attention back to the conquest of space. At first he wanted to fly into space with modified Soviet ballistic missiles, but he was unable to negotiate a reasonable price for carrying the payload into orbit, so he went in a different direction. He calculated that if he controlled the entire production of the rocket from start to finish and did not rely on subcontractors, he could make launches significantly cheaper.
For his idea, Elon Musk lured rocket engineer Tom Mueller, who already had experience in developing a powerful, but cheap and easy-to-produce engine. Dissatisfied with his former employer’s approach, Mueller joined Musk and was SpaceX’s most important technical brain until his departure in late 2020. Together with several other experts who came from Boeing or, like him, from TRW, a company that also manufactures rocket technology, he was responsible for the transformation of SpaceX from a company based in a warehouse near the Los Angeles airport into a company that does not hide its ambitions to send people to another planet.
The money Musk brought in from PayPal was used to develop the Falcon 1 rocket, a small two-stage rocket designed to carry lighter payloads into low orbit. The total cost of its development is estimated at 100 million dollars, as already in 2006 the company SpaceX won a contract from NASA to develop carriers capable of supplying the International Space Station, thus replacing the American space shuttles, the operation of which was already coming to an end. After three failures, it managed to enter orbit for the first time in September 2008, when Falcon 1 launched a mock-up of the RatSat satellite into space.
But in the end, Falcon 1 only waited one more flight in July 2009 – Elon Musk and his company at that time had already fully focused their efforts on the larger Falcon 9 rocket. It took off for the first time in June 2010, when it delivered a model of the Dragon module into orbit, i.e. the forerunner of the later spacecraft. Since the beginning of his space program, Musk has also looked at the possibility of reusing the carrier, which would make it cheaper to put cargo into orbit. The original concept, when the first stages of the Falcon 1 were supposed to return by parachute, was not successful, so after 2012 SpaceX began to develop a controlled landing method.
Between 2013 and 2016, 16 re-entry tests were carried out, of which six were successful – the first in December 2015 on land, then in April 2016 on a remote-controlled ship with a landing platform. This method is already routine at startups today, although it does not always succeed. The first stages are reused after overhaul, although not for manned flights. In March 2018, SpaceX “celebrated” the fiftieth launch of the Falcon 9, and the “nine”, powered by an engine of its own design, became the basis of a successful commercial program. Now it starts up to ten times a month, the total number of starts is already close to 280.
At the same time as the Falcon rockets, the Dragon spacecraft was also born at SpaceX, also on the basis of a contract with NASA, which had to buy capacity in the Russian Soyuz for flights to the ISS after the shutdown of the space shuttles in 2011. The first flight to the ISS took off on May 22, 2012, and three days later it successfully connected with the station – among other things, the first American vessel to dock with the station since the shuttles were retired. On the premier supply mission, however, it only carried excess cargo (food, water and clothing for the station crew). The first sharp mission came in October 2012, so far almost three dozen missions of repeatedly used cargo dragons have been carried out.
The construction of the spacecraft designed to transport astronauts into orbit around the Earth is also based on the cargo ship, which is supplemented, among other things, with life support equipment. The module known today as Crew Dragon was tested for the first time in March 2019, but then it flew to the ISS without humans. Fans of space flights – and not only them – finally got to see May 30, 2020, when a ship with a pair of astronauts took off for the ISS. Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken were the first Americans carried into space by American technology after a nearly nine-year hiatus. Since then, Crew Dragon ships have launched ten times.
Musk’s next space project is the Starlink satellite network, which he has been building through SpaceX since 2018, when he launched the first test satellite into space. The goal of the project is to create a network that would enable a high-speed Internet connection from anywhere in the world using several thousand small satellites in orbit around the Earth. SpaceX has already launched almost 5,500 satellites into space as part of this initiative, with more than 4,400 active at the beginning of November.