Florida: SpaceX will fly the first orbital test of its massive Starship rocket early next year and expects a dozen or more launches in 2022, founder Elon Musk said.
The chance of success on the first flight into Earth orbit is relatively low, Musk said on Wednesday at a virtual session with members of the National Academy of Sciences. The company will launch Starship in January or February and sees multiple orbital test flights next year.
"It's the biggest rocket ever designed and we're close to our initial orbital launch," Musk said.
The stainless steel rocket and Super Heavy booster beneath it will be "rapidly and fully reusable," Musk said, calling that combination "the Holy Grail of rocketry." Starship is designed to transport as much as 100 tons of cargo and people to orbit at a fraction of the cost of prior designs.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. plans to use a modified version of the vehicle to land NASA astronauts on the moon in 2025 or later as part of the Artemis program. Beyond the moon, SpaceX plans to ferry hundreds of tons of supplies and people to Mars to advance Musk's goal of building an inhabited city there.
SpaceX has launched Starship on several test flights to an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from its assembly site in South Texas. For the orbital flight, the company plans to circle the Earth once and then ditch the vehicle into the Pacific Ocean about 60 miles northwest of Kauai.
In more than an hour of remarks, Musk said humanity needs a second planet, given various risks facing Earth, including nuclear weapons, large comets, pandemics, declining birth rates, artificial intelligence and religious extremism.
"We've got sort of the candle of consciousness flickering in the darkness here," he said.