SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Thursday the company is "driving hard" toward an orbital flight of the company's Starship vehicle this year.
It has not been decided yet whether this orbital launch will take place from the company's new facility near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, a site at Cape Canaveral in Florida, or perhaps even an ocean-based launch platform. The company is pressing ahead with all three options in parallel. The orbital mission would involve a future iteration of Starship with six Raptor engines, Musk said.
Since late November, when the very first prototype of a Starship vehicle was damaged during a pressurization test, SpaceX employees have been working on a new version of the vehicle dubbed SN1, for serial number 1. The company has gone with this nomenclature because Musk envisions building the large spaceships rapidly, with each new iteration improving on the last—be it through smoother manufacturing processes, shedding unneeded mass, improving performance, or more.
"Building many rockets allows for successive approximation," Musk said on Twitter, applying a simple equation to the process: progress in any given technology is the number of iterations multiplied by progress between iterations.
Videos recently shot from public roads through the Boca Chica site show the company has made demonstrable progress with its SN1 vehicle, having begun to stack its various components. This rocket could be rolled to the launch site about a mile away from the factory later this month, with fueling tests possibly beginning in early March, followed by a static fire test. If all goes well, SN1 could attempt a test flight as high as 20km later this spring, although SpaceX has not yet obtained a launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The SN1 vehicle will not attempt the orbital flight, however, as that will come from future iterations. Musk said his best guess for the orbital flight test vehicle will be SN3, SN4, or even SN5. "This is very rapid iteration," he said.
Failing to go fast
Under this approach to the design of spaceflight hardware, there will undoubtedly be more setbacks like the November accident. But SpaceX is willing to tolerate some failure to go fast. With "iterative design" the company builds vehicles, tests them, and flies them as quickly as possible. This approach strongly contrasts with more traditional aerospace, in which years are spent refining a vehicle's design before building a vehicle. This typically results in fewer explosions but requires a lot more time and funding.
Musk explained that iteration in the Falcon 9 rocket program slowed down between 2010 and 2018 as its payloads for NASA and commercial customers became "too important" to risk. However, during the early phase of the Starship program, SpaceX Read More – Source