BAKU, Azerbaijan – SpaceX founder Elon Musk is optimistic the next test flight of the mega spaceship Starship will be successful when it happens later this year in Texas.
Musk provided an update Thursday on SpaceX activities, including Starship, Starlink and spacesuit development, via live video at the 2023 International Astronautical Congress underway in Baku, Azerbaijan. There is always major interest in Musk's endeavors with SpaceX. More than 3,000 viewers tuned in on X, formerly known as Twitter, and the audience at IAC in Baku was "packed," according to the moderator Clay Mowyer, with Voyager Space Holdings.
Starship and Super Heavy booster testing and development is underway at SpaceX's Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. NASA has tapped SpaceX's Starship flight system to land the Artemis astronauts on the Moon in 2025, but many test flights are needed before Starship flies people.
A test flight in April ended with an epic explosion over the Gulf of Mexico when SpaceX attempted to launch Starship for the first time. Previous test "hops" were completed from Texas – some also explosive – before SpaceX tried to launch the spaceship and booster together.
Musk said since the test, SpaceX has changed the entire stage separation system for Starship.
With dozens of changes to Starship, the launch tower and the pad system, the CEO believes the next flight will achieve more testing goals.
"I think we've got a decent chance of reaching orbit," Musk said.
"Technically, it's a ‘scooch’ blow orbit because it's going to do almost to complete circle of the Earth, but then splashdown someone somewhere in the Pacific, just off the coast of Hawaii," he added.
The fact that Earth is 70% water is beneficial for testing rockets, according to Musk.
SpaceX plans to return Starship and the Super Heavy booster back to the launch site in Texas, and eventually, it will do the same at the launch and landing site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"We obviously want to make sure that it actually comes in fully intact and lands at a precise location in the Pacific before we try to catch it at the launch site because we're taking every precaution we can so that we do not risk any human lives or destruction of property," Musk said.
Musk said it would be "a few flights" before attempting to catch it using the launch tower arms. Using propulsion to hover the spaceship, the arms will "catch" the Starship back in the same spot where it launched.
"If we get lucky, we catch the ship toward the end of next year," Musk said.
In September, the Federal Aviation Administration closed the Starship Super Heavy mishap investigation from the April test flight. However, closing the inquiry does not mean Starship can immediately resume launching from Texas. SpaceX must implement corrective actions for the FAA to issue a license modification for the next launch attempt.
SpaceX has already taken many of the corrective measures.
When the next test flight happens, Musk said anyone can come see it. The facility is a 40-minute drive from Brownsville, Texas, and along Route 4.
"I think it's kind of cool that the public can actually drive within a literal stone's throw away from the factory and the launch site and actually see the rocket firsthand," Musk said.
A second Starship test flight date has not been announced yet as SpaceX awaits a new launch license from the FAA.