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Just a few months after NASA introduced the world to the most powerful rocket ever flown to orbit, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is prepared to set off its own creation — which could pack nearly twice the power of anything flown before.
SpaceX’s vehicle, called Starship, is currently sitting on a launch pad at the company’s facilities on the southern Texas coastline. The company is targeting liftoff at 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) on Monday, although it has the ability to take off anytime between 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) and 9:30 a.m. CT (10:30 a.m. ET).
“I guess I’d like to just set expectations low,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a Twitter “Spaces” event for his subscribers Sunday evening. “If we get far enough away from launch pad before something goes wrong, then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don’t blow up the pad.”
He added: “There’s a good chance that it gets postponed since we’re going to be pretty careful about this launch.”
SpaceX has a livestream of the Starship launch here.
Folks on the ground near SpaceX’s facilities in South Texas can certainly catch an in-person glimpse. Locals are known to line the surrounding beaches in South Padre Island to watch tests, and this launch is sure to draw spectators.
SpaceX has repeatedly warned those in the area, however, to stay away from the “Keepout Zone” — the areas directly surrounding the launch site that have been deemed too close to the rocket to be safe during lift off.
The “Keepout Zone” includes the coastline south of South Padre Island and stretches a few miles inland.
About this mission
This will mark SpaceX’s first attempt to launch a fully assembled Starship vehicle, building on a years-long testing campaign.
Musk has talked about Starship — making elaborate presentations about its design and purpose — for half a decade, and he frequently harps on its potential for carrying cargo and humans to Mars. Musk has even said that his sole purpose for founding SpaceX was to develop a vehicle like Starship that could establish a human settlement on Mars.
Additionally, NASA has already awarded SpaceX contracts and options worth several billions of dollars to use Starship to ferry government astronauts to the surface of the moon under the space agency’s Artemis program.
The inaugural flight test will not complete a full orbit around Earth. If successful, however, it will travel about 150 miles above Earth’s surface, well into altitudes deemed to be outer space.
Starship consists of two parts: the Super Heavy booster, a gargantuan rocket that houses 33 engines, and the Starship spacecraft, which sits atop the booster during launch and is designed to break away after the booster expends its fuel to finish the mission.
The massive Super Heavy rocket booster will give the first blast of power at liftoff.
Less than three minutes after takeoff, it’s expected to expend its fuel and separate from the Starship spacecraft, leaving the booster to be discarded in the ocean. The Starship will use its own six engines, blazing for more than six minutes, to propel itself to nearly orbital speeds.
The vehicle will then complete a partial lap of the planet, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere near Hawaii. It’s expected to splash down off the coast about an hour and a half after liftoff.