BROWNSVILLE, United States SpaceX is counting down to the first test flight on Monday of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars and beyond.
The giant rocket is scheduled to blast off from Starbase, the SpaceX spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, at 8am Central Time on April 17 (9pm Singapore time).
Back-up dates for the launch have been scheduled for later in the week if Mondays launch attempt is delayed something SpaceXs billionaire founder Elon Musk said is a distinct possibility.
Its a very risky flight, Mr Musk said in a live event on Twitter Spaces on Sunday. Its the first launch of a very complicated, gigantic rocket.
Theres a million ways this rocket could fail, he added. Were going to be very careful and if we see anything that gives us concern, well postpone.
Mr Musk said he wanted to set expectations low because probably tomorrow will not be successful if by successful one means reaching orbit.
The United States space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has picked the Starship spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the Moon in late 2025 a mission known as Artemis III for the first time since the Apollo programme ended in 1972.
Starship consists of a 164-foot (50m) spacecraft designed to carry crew and cargo that sits atop a 230-foot first-stage Super Heavy booster rocket.
Collectively referred to as Starship, the spacecraft and the Super Heavy rocket have never flown in combination together, although there have been several sub-orbital test flights of the spacecraft alone.
If all goes according to plan, the Super Heavy booster will separate from the spacecraft about three minutes after launch and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico.
Starship, which has six engines of its own, will continue to an altitude of nearly 150 miles (241.4km), completing a near-circle of the Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean about 90 minutes after launch.
If it gets to orbit, thats a massive success, Mr Musk said.
If we get far enough away from the launchpad before something goes wrong then I think I would consider that to be a success, he said. Just dont blow up the launchpad.
The payload for this mission is information, he said. Information that allows us to improve the design of future Starship builds. More On This Topic SpaceX gets US regulatory green light for debut Starship flight to space Nasa names first woman, first Black astronauts for Artemis II lunar fly-by SpaceX conducted a successful test-firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the first-stage booster of Starship in February.
The Super Heavy booster was anchored to the ground during the test-firing, called a static fire, to prevent it from lifting off.
Nasa will take astronauts to lunar orbit itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been in development for more than a decade.
Starship is both bigger and more powerful than SLS.
It generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than twice that of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
SpaceX foresees eventually putting a Starship into orbit, and then refuelling it with another Starship so it can continue on a journey to Mars or beyond.
Mr Musk said the goal is to make Starship reusable and bring down the price to a few million dollars per flight.
In the long run long run meaning, I dont know, two or three years we should achieve full and rapid reusability, he said.
The eventual objective is to establish bases on the Moon and Mars and put humans on the path to being a multi-planet civilisation, Mr Musk said.
We are at this brief moment in civilisation where it is possible to become a multi-planet species, he said. Thats our goal. I think weve got a chance. AFP More On This Topic Nasa unveils new spacesuit for Moon landing Scientists find water inside glass beads on the Moon