SpaceX is plotting first commercial Starship launch for 2021

SpaceX Falcon to be housed at Space Museum
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SpaceX is planning to launch its first commercial mission for its Starship rocket (formerly dubbed BFR, or “Big Falcon Rocket”) by 2021, according to a SpaceNews report.

The private aerospace company is aiming to begin commercial service for its next-generation spacecraft and is currently in talks with potential customers, SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller revealed at the Asia Pacific Satellite Conference (APSAT) 2019 in Indonesia.

“We are in discussions with three different customers as we speak right now to be that first mission,” Hofeller said. “Those are all telecom companies.”

Next-Generation Launch System

Hofeller also noted SpaceX’s next-generation launch system, which features the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage, “are being designed to launch up to 20 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or more than 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit.” As such, the booster will boast even more lift capacity than the company’s mega-powerful Falcon Heavy spacecraft.

SpaceX made history earlier this year by launching its first mission for a paying customer via the Falcon Heavy rocket.

The vehicle also delivered multiple payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) in its first-ever nighttime launch. Known as the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, the U.S. Air Force notably reused the Falcon Heavy’s side boosters from the previous Arabsat-6A launch.

Starship will feature the same cost-cutting, eco-conscious, reusable aspects of the Falcon fleet. However, the impending new rocket will be fully reusable, whereas the Falcon rockets are only partially reusable.

Low-Priced Launches

Falcon Heavy has already proven its interstellar prowess with its recent successful launches. It’s hard to imagine the scope of a new rocket system that surpasses the capabilities of “the most powerful operational rocket in the world.” After all, Falcon Heavy’s three engine cores generate 5.13 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

SpaceX plans to continue launching its Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets at currently reduced launch prices. CEO Elon Musk reportedly noted the price of a Falcon 9 launch dropped from “about $60 million to about $50 million” in May.

While two different SpaceX centers (in Texas and Florida) develop Starship, the aerospace company expects Falcon launch prices will continue to drop. These decreases will hopefully keep current customers happy and help them ease into becoming comfortable with the next-generation Starship when it is ready to blast off.

“Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are going to be around as long as our customers want them,” Hofeller said. “If we make them obsolete by having a better product and a lower price, great.”

‘Hop’ Tests and Future Starship Spaceflights

Back in April, SpaceX performed a “hop” test with a Starship prototype called “Starhopper.” The vehicle lifted just off the ground. Musk wrote about the event and posted a video of it on Twitter:

Hofeller revealed the company would conduct future “hop” tests, which are planned to reach higher altitudes, later in 2019. He also announced an aggressive orbiting goal.

“We have future hops coming up later this year,” the executive told his APSAT audience. “The goal is to get orbital as quickly as possible, potentially even this year, with the full stack operational by the end of next year and then customers in early 2021.”

The race to meet NASA’s goal to land humans on the Moon by 2024 is heating up. Several companies want to play a role in helping the U.S. space agency achieve its objective. SpaceX is one of them.

The Hawthorne, California-based firm plans to run several test flights of its impending next-generation launch system before using it to launch more satellites into orbit. Ultimately, SpaceX intends for its Starship mega-rocket to also fly crew to the Moon and Mars.