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Musk lays out Starship testing plan

Capitalism in space: In a meeting in Washington today, Elon Musk laid out SpaceX’s upcoming testing plan for developing its Starship/Superheavy heavy-lift reusable rocket.

“We’ve completed the first orbital booster and first orbital ship, and we’ll be complete with the launch pad and launch tower later this month, and then we’ll do a bunch of tests in December, and hopefully launch in January,” Musk said. “There’s a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I would not say it is likely to be successful, but I think we’ll make a lot of progress,” musk said. “We’ve also built a factory for making a lot of these vehicles. So this is not a case for just one or two. We’re aiming to make a great many.

“We intend to do hopefully a dozen launches next year, maybe more,” Musk said. “And if we’re successful with it being fully reusable, that means we build up the fleet just as we are with the Falcon 9 booster, which is reused.”

Musk says the cost of a Starship launch will eventually fall below the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket flight, which a SpaceX manager said last year can fall below $30 million with reused parts.

“Basically, we intend to complete the test flight program next year, which means it’s probably ready for valuable payloads that are not for testing, but actual real payloads, in 2023.”

According to this schedule 2022 will be devoted to refining the rocket to make it dependable, and 2023 will be used to fly unmanned cargo flights to prove it out for later manned flights.

SpaceX will also likely develop in parallel the various expected versions of Starship, including the refueling ship, the manned lunar lander, and ships used for point-to-point transportation on Earth.

Conscious Choice cover

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  • Jeff Wright

    I wish him well.

  • wayne

    Elon Musk / Akira the Don
    “Elon: A Space Odyssey ??”
    (September 2018)

  • Richard M

    Intriguing to hear him speak explicitly about a propellant “depot” version of Starship. It makes a lot of sense.

  • Questioner

    Mr. Z .:

    From this article you can now see that the $ 2 million Musk once quoted as the price for the start of Starship was nonsense. You did an article about it a few months ago. The sum is just enough for the propellant costs.

    Even a $ 30 million launch cost for over 100 tons of payload would be revolutionary and dirt cheap ($ 300 / kg payload).

  • Matt in AZ

    The very end of the article had an interesting tidbit:

    “Raptor 2 has significant improvements in every way, but a complete design overhaul is necessary for the engine that can actually make life multiplanetary,” Musk tweeted Tuesday. “It won’t be called Raptor.”

    They certainly don’t rest on their laurels!

  • Trent Castanaveras

    The whole interview is well worth the watch. Topics covered range over lots of areas, especially in the Q&A.

    Musk’s segment starts at 6:49:00.

  • MDN


    Thanks for posting the link. What perked my ears was his mention of working with Saul Perlmutter of Berkley on a space telescope incorporating a “ground based mirror” design. (At 7:01)

    I suspected Elon would be noodling on this as Super Heavy has the payload capacity and fairing dimensions to accommodate an 8m primary mirror like the AZ Mirror Lab now pops out so routinely. Or, alternatively, perhaps they envision a swarm of smaller (2-4m) scopes as I have conjectured previously using (and integrated with) the StarLink network model. Either way I’m certain the architecture will be very interesting and look forward to hearing more on this in the future!

  • Ray Van Dune

    SpaceX lacks an 8-meter fairing at present, but I recall reading somewhere that DoD was paying them to develop a bigger one for the Friggin-Heavy, how big not sure. Anyone heard when that debuts? Well you could always squeeze an 8m mirror into a 5m fairing just by turning it sideways, right? ?

  • MDN


    Super heavy is 9m in diameter.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Oops MDN, I meant Falcon Heavy. It is only 5m I think, same as Falcon 9.

  • Matt in AZ

    Ray, I believe SpaceX is only lengthening the Falcon Heavy fairing, not increasing its diameter. Anything wider might have stability issues on such a comparatively thin rocket.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    MDN: You’re welcome!

    Those things don’t get talked about in a positive light much currently. The clickbait focuses on “Starlink Will Destroy Astronomy!” and similar reactionism, unfortunately.

    What rarely is even thought about is how revolutionary Starship truly is. The question astronomers, and everyone else, needs to ponder is, “When mass is no longer the constraining factor to space access, what becomes possible?”

    Food for thought:

  • Patrick Underwood

    I get “this video is private.” ??

  • Mil

    Cognitive Dissonance

    Much of the discussion on Behind the Black centers on the differences between market driven and statist, bureaucratic approaches to space exploration, but the contrast between the vision that is outlined in this post and the earlier post from November 15 (NASA IG: Artemis manned lunar landing will likely not happen in ’25) is so vast that it challenges one’s concept of reality. Indeed, it is almost
    as though we are dealing with different universes in which the physics and physical properties of materials are different, let alone the contrast between organizational and managerial styles.

    At the very least, one approach suggests that we are on the threshold of a new paradigm in terms of exploring and utilizing the solar system*, and the other insists that nothing has changed in terms of science and technology over the last half century. Today, in fact, NASA can’t even successfully implement a follow-on Apollo program, let alone use newer, more cost effective technologies and techniques.


    Yet, both of these approaches / programs are ‘real,’ and each has its share of fans and supporters. But they both can’t be “true’ in terms of what works in practice and what actually puts hardware and human beings into space at a price that anyone can afford.

    In the larger realm of American culture and civilization (and as Behind the Black also covers), this bizarre dichotomy seems to be mirrored in both the approaches to dealing with the seemingly unending Covid19 debacle and the fundamental divide between progressive / woke liberals and individual rights / citizenship oriented conservatives with respect to retaining something like the Founders’ vision of the American Republic. For a detailed look at this dichotomy, see

    The Pew data present an unusually detailed look at just how differently Americans perceive the reality that they inhabit and how they politically align themselves on that basis.

    Different worlds, different beliefs, different outcomes — but all passionately defended on one side by true believers who are
    willing to have you (mostly) die for their cause. At the same time, the rest of us try to overcome the massive cognitive dissonance
    that this division entails, pick a reality to reside in, and lead normal, decent, and productive lives.

    Does anyone else’s head hurt?

  • Star Bird

    Somewhere out there is the Jupiter 2 and Vger

  • Andi

    And the USS Voyager, still trying to find its way back from the Delta Quadrant

  • Edward

    SpaceX has finally started suggesting its price point for a Starship launch, showing that they expect to charge less than $30 million for a launch. Assuming that they set a profit of around $20 million per launch, it would take 50 launches to make up for each $1 billion spent on development.

    From the article:

    “Basically, we intend to complete the test flight program next year, which means it’s probably ready for valuable payloads that are not for testing, but actual real payloads, in 2023.”

    Since SpaceX likes to do as much as it can with each launch of its rockets, my expectation is that next year they will use their test launches to test out various ideas and designs for its several versions. The most useful initial version is the cargo/payload Starship, which takes satellites to orbit. The quote above shows that SpaceX intends to have this version of Starship operational in 2023. Although this mission does not require successful reentry and landing, I expect these two operations to be relatively reliable by the end of 2022.

    A possible long-lead version could be the tanker, which would refuel its cis-lunar and extra-planetary missions, so I expect tests next year for that version as well. They need the tanker for lunar missions, such as the Human Landing System for which they are committed. A man-rated version is also necessary for this commitment, so there is urgency to develop this version.

    The article does not discuss test schedule beyond next year, but I expect man rating to be complete in 2023, with a possible manned flight in the same year.

    SpaceX works fast, too, combining as much into each flight as possible, so the first successful fuel transfer could result in a flight to high orbit followed by a high speed reentry in order to test a return from the Moon or Mars. Another possibility is to use that test unit for a flight around the Moon and then perform a high speed reentry. I also expect an unmanned test flight to Mars shortly after the fuel transfer method works reliably, it may even attempt a landing to start surface tests, such as water searches and fuel production.

    The rapid turnaround of Starship is part of the cost-reduction plan, so they should be working this issue even more heavily in 2023 and 2024.

    Mil asked: “Does anyone else’s head hurt?

    My head does not, because I have chosen my world, belief, and outcome based upon centuries of experience (other people’s) and success (including mine). No cognitive dissonance for me. I did not choose another set of worlds, beliefs, and outcomes, because there are centuries of experience in some and a century of (only) failure in one other, showing that they all do not work as well as the market driven version. I believe I have chosen wisely.

    My world lacks perfection, but it is based upon merit and earned success, while the attempts at utopian worlds have turned out to be dystopian. The market driven version of space is blossoming more in one decade than the statist, bureaucratic approach did in half a century, and that reinforces my belief in my choice. All I need is a wise old man to confirm it for me, and I will be happy for life. (5 seconds)

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