SpaceX plans to fire up all 33 engines powering its massive Starship launch system ahead of its first orbital launch, a key milestone in the company’s efforts to reach the moon and Mars. The so-called static fire is scheduled for Thursday, Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said Wednesday at an industry conference in Washington. That would pave the way for the rocket’s orbital launch within “the next month or so,” she said.
The announcement comes about two weeks after the company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, filled the rocket and booster with propellant in a “wet dress rehearsal.”
These timelines are not assured. A year ago, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk gathered members of the press in Boca Chica, Texas, to show off a Starship prototype on a launchpad. He said it would be ready to launch in a “couple of months.”
Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle, designed to carry cargo and eventually people to deep-space destinations.
SpaceX also holds a contract with NASA to develop Starship as a lunar landing system that can take NASA astronauts to and from the surface of the moon.
The company plans for Starship to be a spacecraft that it can assemble quickly.
“Falcon was never built to be producible and launch quickly,” Shotwell said, referring to the Falcon 9 workhorse rocket. “We have designed Starship to be producible and launch quickly. So if we can do 100 flights of Falcon this year, I’d love to be able to do 100 flights of Starship next year.”
Shotwell also discussed SpaceX’s internet-from-space initiative, Starlink, which she said had a cash-flow positive quarter last year.
“They’re paying for their own launches and they will still make money,” she said in response to questions from reporters.
Last year, SpaceX and Musk provided Starlink terminals to the Ukrainian government after Russia’s invasion of the country.
Shotwell said that Starlink ended up being used in unintended ways, which the company has since tried to stop.
“It was never intended to be weaponized,” she said. Ukrainians “leveraged it in ways that were unintentional.”
We thought “humanitarian, keep the banks going, hospitals, keep families connected,” she said. “I think comms for the military is fine. We know the military is using them for comms and that’s OK. But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”
Some Ukrainian military units had used Starlink to connect their combat drones, the Times of London reported last March.
SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon in September asking for the agency to pay for Ukraine’s Starlink service, CNN first reported.
SpaceX is still funding the service. “We stopped interacting with the Pentagon on the existing capability. They are not paying for it.”
As far as stopping certain uses of Starlink, “there are things that we can do and have done,” Shotwell said.
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