Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to make its first attempt to launch its huge Starship rocket into space, marking what could be an important milestone in the billionaire’s bid to carry astronauts to Mars.
SpaceX said on Sunday that the rocket could be launched from its base in Texas during a 90-minute window beginning on Monday. If the rocket is not ready to launch during that window, SpaceX has alternative launch times available later in the week.
On Sunday, Musk sought to lower expectations for the launch attempt. In a discussion broadcast on Twitter, he warned that many issues could delay the launch or cause the rocket to fail. “Just don’t blow up the launch pad,” he added.
If the launch is successful, the rocket would reach an altitude of 150 miles and complete a 90-minute trip, ending in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii. SpaceX will not attempt to recover either of the rocket’s two stages — its Super Heavy booster and the Starship on top that will one day carry crews to space — though eventually those parts will be designed to be reused.
Powered by 33 of SpaceX’s Raptor engines, the rocket is set to become the most powerful ever to be launched into space. The company has said it will have more than 16mn pounds of thrust, roughly twice that of the previous record holder, the Saturn V rocket that carried Americans to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
Starship was designed to take humans to Mars, the purpose that Musk set for SpaceX when he founded the company in 2002.
Long before then, Starship was co-opted by Nasa to take part in the first attempt to return astronauts to the moon since 1972. With the ability to carry payloads of as much as 100 tons, Starship could also transform the economics of reaching orbit, challenging SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rockets as the main workhorse for reaching space.