SpaceX targets Starship moon landing by 2022, Starlink broadband launch by 2020


SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell shared new goals for two of the company’s programs at a recent investor conference. The executive discussed an aggressive timeline for SpaceX’s Starship rocket as well as the Starlink internet broadband service, according to CNBC.

Aggressive Lunar Landing Goals

Shotwell recently spoke at the Baron’s Fund annual investor conference at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She revealed an ambitious plan for taking cargo and people to the moon via the firm’s massive Starship rocket.

“We want Starship in orbit next year; we want to land it on the moon before 2022 with cargo and with people shortly thereafter,” Shotwell said.

Given that NASA’s lunar landing target is 2024, SpaceX is setting an aggressive goal. Currently, the company is building multiple Starship rockets simultaneously. The massive spaceships are designed to carry as many as 100 people into space.

When fully assembled, the gigantic launch system will stand 390 feet tall. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled a Starship Mk1 prototype at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, late last month.

At that time, Musk said that SpaceX plans to test the rocket by blasting it up to about 65,000 feet and then landing it back on Earth “In about one or two months.” Even if the testing is successful, landing Starship on the moon within the next two years would still be a fast turnaround.

Shotwell acknowledged the tight timetable and covered herself for a potential delay by adding, “Every time I make a prediction about the schedule, I turn myself into a liar.”

Crewed Spaceflight Comes First

Right now, SpaceX is prioritizing its Crew Dragon program ahead of any Starship launch goals. The Hawthorne, California-based company aims to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the reusable capsule.

“It’s a critical program for us, as it’s our first step to flying astronauts,” Shotwell told conference attendees.

Crew Dragon made a successful uncrewed flight to the ISS back in March. However, a dummy capsule exploded during an engine test the following month.

Moving forward, completing multiple Crew Dragon spaceflights will give SpaceX vital knowledge and experience about flying people safely.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first astronauts to travel to the ISS aboard Crew Dragon. Their Demo-2 crewed mission will make history as SpaceX becomes the first private aerospace firm to send humans to the space station from American soil.

A successful manned Crew Dragon flight will help set the stage for SpaceX to achieve future space exploration goals. “Then we’ll put people on Starship and send them to farther places,” Shotwell said.

Furthermore, she explained that a critical factor in enabling multiple Starship interstellar journeys is applying the reusability lessons that the company learned in landing its Falcon and Crew Dragon rockets.

“If you’re going to take people to other planets, you can’t wait for a new aerospace industry to develop on the planet before you can figure out how to land a rocket. You have to figure out how to land, refuel, and come back,” Shotwell advised.

Overall, the firm aims to recover Starship and its Super Heavy booster to use in ongoing spaceflights. In preparing for a crewed mission, SpaceX will conduct a Crew Dragon static test fire on November 2.

Starlink Broadband Goals

SpaceX also plans to use Starship to launch its Starlink broadband internet service. According to a Space News report, the company plans to complete six to eight Starlink launches to establish enough coverage to begin offering its internet satellite service to customers in 2020. Notably, each of these launches can send up 60 satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

Shotwell made this announcement at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C., last week. She discussed Starlink’s satellite launch plans further at the investor conference.

“In the next few weeks, we’re going to launch another 60 [satellites] and then get to a cadence of launching 60 every other week to fill out the constellation,” Shotwell said.

“We need 360 to 400 to have constant connectivity where the satellites can end up through the ground talking to each other. Once we get to 1,200 satellites, we will have coverage of the whole globe,” she added.

Once Starship is up and running, it can send 400 satellites into orbit at once.

Elon Musk estimates that Starlink could generate around $30 billion every year. This potential revenue stream would be about 10 times what SpaceX brings in from its launch business. Therefore, these funds could help finance the company’s plans to colonize Mars.

After five years, the satellites will intentionally burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Given their short shelf life, Shotwell explained that SpaceX plans to “refresh the technology” and rapidly replace the inactive satellites. They are intentionally designed to burn up in the atmosphere after completing their roles so as to not create space junk.

Moving forward, Starship will play a key role in making regular spaceflights to deliver the new equipment.