Elon Musk said SpaceX’s Starship will launch into orbit this year

Elon Musk said SpaceX's Starship will launch into orbit this year

Texas, TGO: Elon Musk has said he is highly confident that SpaceX’s Starship will launch into orbit this year, despite technical and regulatory challenges.

Giving a presentation with the rocket behind him in Boca Chica, Texas, the billionaire entrepreneur and social media user delivered a formal update on the rocket’s development.

Combined with SpaceX’s first stage, known as Super Heavy, the launch vehicle will be the largest and most powerful ever designed – even taller than the Saturn V which took man to the moon – and able to generate more than twice the thrust.

Elon Musk spoke to an audience in Boca Chica, Texas

Lunar and Mars missions

The power of the launch vehicle will be necessary for SpaceX’s plans to be involved with NASA’s Artemis programme, which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the moon.

Mr Musk also wants to use the rocket to travel to Mars and establish a permanent human presence there, but told his audience in Texas that he didn’t want to limit the potential applications for relatively affordable travel off-planet.

SpaceX currently plans to launch the first ever private lunar mission in 2023, taking Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa in a fly-by of the Moon during a week-long journey.

“This flight is an important step toward enabling access for people who dream of traveling to space,” the company states.

“When the Wright Brothers first took off most people were just riding horses, they would not have imagined that there would be tens of thousands of aircraft flying to every corner of the world.

“So this really could be a profound situation, and we really can’t imagine all the use-cases at this point,” said Mr Musk.

SpaceX has faced serious production challenges with its Raptor 2 engines used in the Super Heavy rocket, and earlier this year warned of potential insolvency if the company couldn’t fix them.

“We’re very close to solving that,” he told the audience in Texas, adding that he expected production would reach up to eight engines a week by the end of March.

What are the challenges?

Increased production will help SpaceX continue to test the Starship spacecraft, which – like the company’s Falcon 9 before it – has had an explosive beginning to life.

Seven of the rocket’s prototypes have been destroyed and eight scrapped after test flights. The company plans to launch a Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster for an orbital flight, although it is not clear when that will be completed.

One of the major challenges facing SpaceX is an environmental assessment of its Boca Chica test-flight and production facility by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Such assessments can often take years and lead to prolonged litigation.

Mr Musk said: “We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA… We have gotten sort of a rough indication there may be an approval in March. But that’s all we know.”

In a “worst-case” scenario, where approval for the facility was denied, SpaceX would shift the entire Starship programme to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, which would cause a delay of up to eight months.