SpaceX has made final preparations to launch its new Starship rocket system to space for the first time, on a brief but highly anticipated uncrewed test flight. Monday's uncrewed demonstration will lift off from the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica in Texas at 5.30 pm IST (1200 GMT).
The mission represents a key milestone in SpaceX's ambition of sending humans back to the moon and ultimately to Mars.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, has stated that the Starship rocket system is the first step in a long journey that will require many flights.
'LIKE A METEOR'
"The ship will be coming in like a meteor," Elon Musk said. "This is the first step in a long journey that will require many flights."
Starship rocket system, standing tall at 120 meters, is the most powerful rocket on Earth. It has been designed to carry both crew and cargo to various destinations in the solar system, including the Moon and Mars. Starship is designed to be reusable, making it a cost-effective option for space travel.
Starship spacecraft, when launched, will be carried by the Super Heavy rocket. This first stage of the rocket measures 70 meters long, has around 33 Raptor engines, and will be filled with 3,400 tons of cryogenic methalox, which is a combination of liquid oxygen and methane propellants.
The Starship spacecraft itself is made up of two stages, both powered by Raptor engines that use an efficient combustion cycle to burn the propellants. The first stage is the Super Heavy booster, while the second stage is the Starship spacecraft, which can function as a self-contained vehicle for transporting crew and cargo while in orbit. Both stages are designed to be reusable, with vertical landing capabilities. The Raptor engines are also reusable, making the entire system a cost-effective option for space travel.
The rear of the Starship spacecraft is 50 meters long and has six Raptor engines located at the rear end. These engines are highly efficient and have been developed over a decade by SpaceX. The engine's design ensures efficient combustion in stages, minimising propellant waste.
The spacecraft has a large payload compartment towards the front, which can carry significant cargo or passengers to deep space destinations. The propellant tanks are located in the middle and supply liquid methane and oxygen to the Raptor engines. Methane is the fuel, while oxygen acts as an oxidizer, enabling the fuel to burn. The combination is referred to as methalox.
The spacecraft is planned to have a payload capacity of 150 t to low Earth orbit in its fully reusable configuration and 250 t to low Earth orbit if fully expended.
Prototypes of the Starship cruise vessel have made five sub-space flights up to 10 km above Earth in recent years, but the Super Heavy booster has never left the ground. In February, SpaceX did a test-firing of the booster, igniting 31 of its 33 Raptor engines for roughly 10 seconds with the rocket bolted in place vertically atop a platform.
The spacecraft is also planned to be refuelable in orbit before traveling to destinations that require more change in velocity (delta-v budget), such as the Moon and Mars. Proposed applications for Starship include regular crewed and cargo launches, building the Starlink internet constellation, and performing suborbital point-to-point flights on Earth.