SpaceX founder Elon Musk is “80% -90% confident” that the company’s massive new Starship rocket will hit orbit next year, and said there was a chance it could be used for an unmanned cargo mission to Mars in 2024 will be ready.
The first test flights will be difficult and associated with a high risk of failure, Musk said at a virtual meeting of the 2020 Mars Society conference on Friday. “We’ll likely lose a few ships before we get the atmospheric return and landing right,” he said.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. von Musk is building prototypes of the giant rocket in Boca Chica, Texas, to further his quest to build a self-sufficient city on Mars. The company has also won a NASA order for a human landing system on the moon with the new vehicle.
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Musk predicted that Starship could be ready to test orbital refueling in 2022, a major milestone for vehicles attempting to move cargo to the moon and Mars. But he acknowledged that his estimated data for the missile’s progress “are obviously just guesswork” and could change.
“It’s not that I have all this secret information and I’m just keeping it out of people,” he said. To date, the new rocket has completed at least two successful 150-meter test jumps. Starship was developed to transport heavy payloads in the solar system and hold up to 100 people.
Beyond the orbital test flights, Musk said SpaceX has “a chance to fight”, ready to send a utility ship payload – human free – to Mars in 2024. This is also the year NASA plans to bring astronauts back to the moon.
Earth and Mars come closest to each other every 26 months, the typical cycle in which the National Aeronautics and Space Agency and other state space agencies launch scientific missions to the planet.